Play and learning
‘What did you do at school today?’ ‘We just played.’
We’ve talked about why children play and the benefits of play, but the idea still persists that if it’s too much fun, children are not learning.
However, the evidence suggests the opposite. Research shows that children actually learn through play. Play is learning.
Children need time to play
Play is fun, all children love playing, and children learn so much through play without even realising it. So we need to give children time to play, not just ten minutes when they finish their ‘work’.
When children play, they are experimenting with ideas, testing hypotheses, mastering skills, using their imaginations and representing their world. If you cut out play when teaching English you are removing a vital step in childhood development.
Here are a few examples of the different types of things children are learning and developing as they play.
When playing with play dough children develop their fine motor skills. Children are working on hand-eye coordination and building up the muscles in their hands and fingers when modelling plasticine. These are valuable pre-writing skills, as good muscle strength and hand-eye coordination will help children hold and use writing tools properly later on. By playing with plasticine, children are also experimenting with things like colour, shape and texture.
When playing with dolls and a tub of water they are learning about the concepts of wet and dry, floating and sinking, clean and dirty. They are also engaging in sensory play, and experimenting with the way water feels.
When playing with musical instrumentschildren are developing sound recognition (the sounds that different instruments make and an understanding of how sounds can change (e.g. high, low, soft, loud, fast slow) and an appreciation of music. These valuable listening skills are transferable to the area of language and communication.
When playing with transport toys, children are experimenting with friction and motion, up and down, forwards and backwards, fast and slow.
When children are playing with blocks, they are learning about colour, shape and patterns, as well as the concepts of weight, size, height, length, vertical and horizontal.
In dramatic play and small world play(acting out scenes from real life, stories and/or imagination created with small figures and objects) children are representing ideas that help them make sense of the world around them. They can also experiment with playing different roles and inventing different scenarios, taking them beyond the real world and developing their imagination.
Toys and resources for play should be chosen on the basis that they are:
- safe – toys should be checked regularly and broken toys thrown out.
- clean – soft toys and dressing up clothes should be machine washed regularly.
- age appropriate – no toys with loose or small parts for babies and toddlers (0-3 years), safety scissors provided for children who are learning to cut, sharp objects stored out of reach.
- provide adequate supervision of children at all times.
- model safe practice and behaviour.
- set clear boundaries according to the child’s age and stage of development.
- encourage children to respect each other while playing.
- encourage children to think of the consequences of their actions.
Children will learn better knowing that they can play without hurting themselves, and are safe to experiment with new and different things.
© British Council