The Power of Play
Engaging in play is crucial for a child's development as it greatly influences their capacity to learn and thrive in their foundation years.
Through play, children explore, experiment, and make sense of the world and promote holistic development.
As children engage in playful activities, they boost their imaginations, nurture social skills, expand their cognitive abilities, strengthen their physical development, and build emotional intelligence and resilience.
Research has taught us that the most critical period of human development is from birth to six years old.
One of the main reasons is how fast the brain grows, starting before birth and continuing into early childhood. Although the brain continues to develop and change into adulthood, the first six years can build a foundation for future learning, health and life success.
Children are born scientists!
Children are natural scientists – they come into the world ready to experiment and learn through play. And they use what they discover to not only adapt the structure of their brains but also strengthen the skills they need to continue being engaged, flexible learners for their whole lives.
Your baby's exploratory instincts began in the womb, engaging in various playful activities, often expressed through their movements and reactions to stimuli.
Research suggests that one-way babies play is by stretching, kicking, and flipping around, which helps them strengthen their muscles and prepare for life outside the womb. They also respond to external sounds and touch, often turning their heads or making sudden movements in response to music or gentle pressure on the mother's belly.
These playful interactions in the womb contribute to the baby's sensory development and provide a foundation for their future explorations and interactions once they are born.
As your little one enters the world and starts growing, they will constantly observe and question their surroundings, seeking answers and explanations for the sensations and new experiences they encounter.
Their curious minds, open-mindedness and willingness to learn make children ideal scientists.
What are the benefits of learning through Play?
Play is a Holistic Approach
Development in children is a holistic process, taking into account physical, cognitive, emotional, social and overall well-being. All of these elements of development are entangled and rely on each other, influencing one another in a continuous cycle.
By engaging in play, children use and develop a variety of crucial skills that support their growth. For example,
A child engaging in imaginative play, playing a character and expressing a range of emotions enhances their emotional intelligence and promotes communication and language skills.
A child moving to music, twirling to the rhythm, promotes body awareness and motor skills whilst building confidence and self-expression.
Language and Communication Development
Play is an effective way for children to improve their communication and language skills. Whether it's interactive games or playing with toys, children can experiment with sounds, shapes, and words while observing reactions.
Quality interactions from the beginning help young children begin to understand the connections between objects, sounds, gestures, and meanings and to convey their thoughts, feelings, and needs.
As children observe and interact with others during play, they pick up new words and phrases and learn the skills of nonverbal cues and social interactions. Play allows them to practice turn-taking, listening, responding, and expressing themselves.
Supporting Communication and Language through Play
Provide a language-rich environment
Create an environment rich in language by talking, singing, and reading aloud to them.
These activities will support their communication and language development as they watch your expressions and gestures and hear words and sounds. Still, they are a fun way to bond with your little one.
The repetition of words and sounds is significant for memory development. It allows your little one to practise words and sounds in an interactive fun way. These activities can also help with cognitive development and introduce early literacy and math concepts through songs like numbers and counting.
Stories and songs also support listing skills; as your little one listens to songs and stories, they can concentrate, follow instructions, and begin understanding information.
As you go about your day, try talking to your child and using everyday words, expressions, and sounds. This can help them develop their social conversation skills through back-and-forth exchanges of words.
Follow your child's lead
Pay attention to your child's interests and preferences during play. Join in their play and follow their lead, as this helps them feel more engaged and motivated to communicate.
Comment on what they are doing and their movements. Use descriptive language to describe the objects they are using, their textures, size and colours.
Ask open-ended questions starting with why, how, where, what etc., to boost their thinking skills and encourage conversation.
Repeat your little one's responses; their word sounds. This practice, often known as "parallel talk" or "language modelling," helps children to develop their language skills and improve their communication abilities. Echoing their words and sounds to them provides a supportive and engaging environment, encouraging them to continue exploring language and promoting self-expression.
Engage in pretend play
Pretend play helps children learn new words, practice sentence structure, and develop their imagination.
Providing costumes and role-play areas, such as a toy kitchen, an office, shop, with a range of resources, including natural objects in their play, is a great way to boost their understanding of the world and encourage them to express and role-play everyday scenarios, encouraging confidence and talk.
Provide small world resources, such as dolls, a doll house, garage, cars, train set, animals, action figures, etc.
This type of play provides imaginative play experiences where children can manipulate miniature items and use their creativity to explore a different world—helping your little one develop social, language, fine motor, and problem-solving abilities.
Reading books to your little ones regularly and encouraging them to make up their own stories will boost their storytelling skills, helping them develop language skills and creativity.
Use pictures, puppets, and props to make storytelling more engaging.
Add mark-making materials to encourage your little one to express themselves through marks and writing.
Create sensory storytelling by adding a natural material as a resource to tell a story. For example, for the story of We're Going on a Bear Hunt, Collect some of the materials mentioned in the story, such as mud, water, grass etc. and retell the story with your little one, engaging with the materials, describing what they feel like the smells, textures and colours.
Encourage Social Play
Social play provides opportunities for children to interact with others and practice their communication skills.
Encourage your child to participate in group activities, stay and play sessions in the local community, baby massage, singing and story sessions at the local library, playdates with friends and family or enrolling them in a childcare provider such as a nursery or childminder, to engage in conversations, practise sharing, turn-taking, share ideas, and listen to others.
Play is critical for the physical development of young children. When your child plays, they develop their gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and overall coordination. This is because play involves many movements, such as moving, rolling, crawling, running, jumping, climbing, throwing, and catching. Children develop their muscles and hand-eye coordination when engaging in physical and sensory activities.
But it's not just the physical benefits of play that are important. Play also supports the cognitive development of young children.
Through play, children can learn about the world around them, develop their problem-solving skills, and explore their creativity. This is because play allows children to experiment, make mistakes, and try out new ideas in fun and interactive ways.
Supporting Physical Development through Play
One of the best ways to encourage play is to provide children with open-ended toys and materials that allow them to explore and create independently.
Provide open-ended activities such as:
Blocks: Blocks can be wooden, plastic or foam and come in different shapes, sizes and colours.
Children can explore them in various ways: stack, knock over, sort, arrange, build, and destroy. Blocks can support fine motor skills as they practise picking them up, grasping, holding and letting them go.
Playdough: Playdough is a flexible material that can be shaped into anything your child wishes.
This hands-on activity promotes the development of fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination while enhancing finger dexterity, as kneading, squeezing, and rolling playdough strengthen hand muscles, making everyday tasks like holding a pencil or crayon easier.
Junk Modelling: Junk modelling is a collection of your household, recyclable materials such as plastic bottles, yoghurt pots, empty toilet rolls, cereal boxes, etc.
This open-ended play allows children to manipulate various size objects and spaces as they explore placing smaller materials inside others, tearing materials, cutting, folding, and sticking items together.
These actions develop their hand-eye coordination, grasp control, and refine fine motor skills, paving the way for writing, tying shoelaces, and other complex activities later on.
Playing outside encourages children to be more active, which is critical for physical development. The vast open space of nature gives children plenty of room to move around, burn off energy, and improve their coordination, balance, and motor skills.
Encourage your little one to engage in active outdoor play regularly. This enables them to freely explore their surroundings, experiment with their physical abilities, and build fundamental skills such as coordination, balance, and strength.
Encourage opportunities for exploring the outdoors through hands-on activities such as mud playing, bug hunting, and collecting natural resources to learn about the world through the sensory qualities outdoor materials have. Encourage sensory exploration by using your senses, smelling your surroundings, touching, feeling and smelling natural things such as mud, flowers, grass, bark, etc. Encourage language skills by describing what you see, touch, and feel.
Provide physical opportunities like walking, running, jumping, riding bikes, rolling on the grass or jumping in muddle puddles.
It's essential to encourage and support your child to climb trees. Some parents or caregivers may find it dangerous and avoid it. Still, with proper supervision and support, your child can enjoy the challenge and develop problem-solving skills and motor development.
Sensory play stimulates the senses, ignites curiosity, and promotes fine motor skills development.
Provide sensory activities such as:
Water Play: Fill a basin or a tub with water and let children play with cups, containers, and water toys.
Sand Play: Provide children with a sandbox or a large container filled with sand and let them explore and create using small shovels and moulds.
Playdough or Clay Play: Give children playdough or clay to squeeze, roll, and mould into different shapes and objects.
Finger Painting: Set up a table with paper and non-toxic paints for children to create marks and paint using their hands and fingers.
Sensory Bins: Fill bins with various materials such as rice, beans, or dried pasta, and let children explore and manipulate them with their hands and tools.
Shaving Cream Play: Spray shaving cream onto a table or a tray and let children draw shapes or make designs with their fingers.
Bubble Play: Provide children with a bubble machine or solution and encourage them to blow and pop bubbles or use different wands to create different bubble shapes.
Dance and Music
Introduce music and dance into your little one's daily routines; rhythmic movements promote gross motor skills, coordination, and body awareness.
Dancing also cultivates self-expression, confidence, and a deep appreciation for music. In addition, it is a great and fun bonding opportunity.
Personal Social and Emotional Development
Play can also support personal social, and emotional development in young children. Play is a safe and natural way for children to explore the world around them and work through emotions they may be experiencing. Children can learn to express their feelings through play, work through conflicts, and build self-confidence. Play also allows children to take risks and face challenges, which can help build resilience and grit.
Supporting Personal Social and Emotional Development Through Play:
Encourage Sharing Games
Encourage your little ones to share by engaging them in fun activities that require teamwork; use phrases such as "My turn - Your turn" to support young children's understanding. Play board games, build a Lego structure together, take turns singing parts of a song, etc.
Reading storybooks to children is a great way to develop their personal, social, and emotional skills. It exposes them to different scenarios, teaches them empathy, and helps them identify and understand different emotions.
Taking children on nature walks is fun, provides an excellent opportunity to explore different sensory experiences, and promotes calmness, relaxation and concentration; it is a wonderful opportunity to engage in mindfulness by practising deep breathing, being in the present moment, taking notice of the body, how it feels, its movements, sensations and emotions.
Encourage young children in role-play to boost communication and language as your little one engages in pretend play and role-play different scenarios and circumstances.
They can experience different situations developing empathy, understanding different perspectives, and improving their communication skills.
In addition, it is an outlet for children to unleash their imagination and creativity. Imaginative play helps children think beyond the constraints of reality, fostering creativity and encouraging flexible thinking.
Encourage emotional expression
Support your little one's emotional development by exploring and talking about emotions.
Children love making funny faces, using this interest to play in front of the mirror and make different emotions using expressions and gestures.
Use everyday situations to describe times when you feel sad, angry, or scared to encourage your little one to do the same.
Join 1000's of families learning at home
Get 3 months of free access to our award-winning nursery education app.