A frequently asked question that teachers in early childhood centres receive from parents is “ Why do you just let the children play?”
There has been a lot of research done to show just how important play is to children’s growth and development. From as early as infancy, play is the primary way children learn. Through play children eagerly use all the “tools” they have at their disposal, including physical movement, relationships with family and peers and interaction with the world around them. Play more than any other activity fuels healthy development of young children as it is through play that much of children’s early learning is achieved. Research has shown that a play-based curriculum is advocated as one of the best approaches to supporting children’s learning.
Many people see play as a passing of time. But play is life. It is instinctive, voluntary, spontaneous, natural, exploratory, and communication and expression. Play combines action and thought and gives children satisfaction and achievement. Play has no external goals and focuses on the process rather than the product.
Play helps children to learn about themselves and the world around them, it also helps children to understand their environment and gives them the chance to learn and practice new skills. Play gives children the opportunity to express thoughts and ideas and allows children to plan, discover problems, reason, try out solutions, develop skills and to create and explore. Play also provides children with the opportunity to build relationships with their peers and other adults.
Play is valuable for children as it helps children to develop skills such as co-operation, negotiation and compromise. It helps children to develop their imagination and gives children the opportunity to start developing their personalities.
Through play, children develop physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. For example, play is very valuable for children’s physical development as they run, climb, skip, hop, jump, throw and catch, providing the exercise and physical activity that children need to strengthen and coordinate their muscles and bodies. Physical play helps build on children’s fine and gross motor skills, it also gives children a challenge and helps children to develop self-awareness. Physical play is also a great way for children to release energy and to gain control over their bodies.
Play is also valuable to children’s social and emotional development as play enables children to express thoughts and ideas and to try out ways of behaving and feeling. Through play, children can act out frustrations, fears, anxieties and anger. Children are able to translate feelings, thoughts and fantasies into action making children feel in control and in charge of their world and feelings.
Play offers children opportunities to be nurturing and caring, practice social skills such as learning to care for others as well as learning to resolve conflict with their peers as they learn to co-operate with one another and take turns as well as learning to negotiate with their peers. Play is beneficial to children’s language development as through play and interaction with their peers and adults children will be learning to communicate both verbally and non verbally.
Children’s listening skills will also develop as they participate in experiences which require children to listen to other children, teachers or lyrics in a song.
Through play children’s cognitive skills are enhanced as children will have the opportunity to problem-solve and use trial and error skills. Through play children learn about new concepts, it gives children the opportunity to sort and group objects and make sense of different things. Children have time to think, plan, reason and organise.
So as you can see, play is very meaningful and important to all children. Therefore it is our role to ensure that children will be given lots of opportunities to learn and explore freely through their play.