Why play matters

7min read

Play is one of the main ways in which children learn and develop. It helps to build self-worth by giving a child a sense of his or her own abilities and to feel good about themselves. Because it’s fun, children often become very absorbed in what they are doing.

Key Points:

  • Learning through play is important and can help young children be ready for school, encourage their imagination and help them with literacy and numeracy skills
  • Role play games can help your child make sense of the world, aid in their emotional and physical development
  • Outdoor play and nature are beneficial to your child as they learn about the world around them and helps their sensory needs too

Keeping it fun

It's important that learning is fun at this age. It needs to be about doing things with them that they like. They might find unusual ways of doing things - for a toddler, building blocks aren't just for making towers, and paint can be used without a brush! Show them how things work, but if they want to experiment, let them.

Children learn through all their senses through taste, touch, vision, hearing and smelling. They will watch those around them and copy language and behaviour. 

Don't push your child too hard. Children develop in their own ways and in their own time. Try not to compare them to other children. You can also encourage reading, by reading to and with them. Look at the pictures together; this will help younger children make sense of the words.

It's also good to talk to them a lot, about everyday things while you are cooking or cleaning. This will give you a chance to teach them how things work and they will be able to ask you questions. Get ready for lots of “why’s?” 

Setting the scene

Anyone who spends any amount of time with young children understands that providing them with opportunities for play provides so much more than a few minutes or hours of ‘fun’. Play also allows children to relax, let off steam, develop social skills such as concentration and co-operation, encourages the development of the imagination, develops motor skills and teaches self expression.

Sarah Owen, founder of ‘Pyjama Drama’ – drama, music, movement and play for pre-school children says, ‘Many children seem to be born with a natural ability to play, but some children find it more difficult and need to ‘learn’ how to play well and this is where parents can make a big difference. Whilst it is very important that children play with their peers and are given opportunities for unstructured play, children who also play with a loved adult can benefit greatly – the benefits of having fun together cannot be underestimated!’

Adults have a role within the play by making time and space available with the relevant resources. Think about creating play ideas that help support and extend learning and development. 

Dramatic play aka role play

Dramatic play is essential to a child’s social (or emotional) development and can play a large part in their physical development too. Children make sense of the world in which they live by acting out situations before they happen and by copying what they see around them. Pretend (or dramatic) play contributes to a child’s emotional development as they learn to see life from a different viewpoint and allows them to ‘trial’ situations before they happen.

Most children are naturally imaginative and will happily talk away to someone on their toy phone or drive the sofa to the shops, and this creativity should be actively encouraged! This type of play also develops children’s imaginations which are closely linked to intellectual development.

Outdoor play and exploration

Encouraging your young child to explore outdoor play is extremely beneficial and necessary for their development. Outdoor play helps them to learn lots about the everchanging environment and gives them the opportunity to use their whole body and develop their gross motor skills. It can meet their multi-sensory needs and can give them a love for the outdoors. Whether it is messy play, creative or role play, it is an essential part of learning.

Froebel Trust have produced an informative pamphlet talking about outdoor play with lots of ideas and advice. 

Further resources 

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to explore their ideas on learning with their young children. The Froebel Trust have some great play resources that you may find helpful that helps children get back to nature and develop their creativity. If you do need some advice or support you can talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker. Alternatively, you can speak to your Health Visitor for some guidance.

You may want to sign up for our free Let's Play online course which is aimed at parents of young children to help them develop play and learning. We have three modules exploring the benefits of play, ideas and games you can use and more. 

Other organisations that may be useful:

Find out more on play and learning from the Early Years Matter website

Tips on the power of play from the Froebel Trust

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