When children are playing, so much is actually going on. They are learning about themselves and their environment. It allows them to:
Learn new skills
Use their imagination
It builds a foundation for later learning. Play is essential for the development of the whole child i.e. Social, Emotional, Intellectual, Physical and Aesthetic development.
Through role-play they learn how to relate to those around them. By playing ‘shop’ they learn that things happen in sequence, as they first have to pay the money to get their item in return. Sequencing is an early stage of learning maths. They also begin to understand social roles. They learn to understand the expectations of adults and the influence they have on others.
Through play children learn to express their feelings. It gives them the opportunity to master skills by trying and trying again. Thus gaining confidence in their own environment and a sense of self-worth because they can achieve their goals.
There are actually 4 stages to this
1.Learning through the body. E.g. discovers big and small as he
realises he is too big to really drive his toy car.
2.Exploring their world with real objects. How they work and the
Different ways in which to use them. He forms concepts in his mind from the real object to a mental picture.
3. Interpreting symbolically. In the form of educational games
4. Represent ideas through graphical artwork. Now he is able to express what he sees in his mind through drawing, clay modelling or construction.
Where some pre-school teachers get this wrong is they try to fit all 4 stages in to one half an hour lesson, instead of allowing mastery at each stage. They want to hand out worksheets to have a record of what the child has learnt when in reality no real learning in being done.
Play develops the senses, body control, fine and large muscle development and co-ordination. The cross-lateral movement involved is critical to a child’s later success in reading and writing.
There are two types of creativity
1.Artwork and aesthetic appreciation
2.Creative thinking and problem solving
Play encourages creativity. He makes up his own games, decides what materials to use and how long to play for. Painting and drawing and constructing pictures help them to express their unique creativity.
So lets break it down to each activity and see what they are actually learning;
Building with blocks
A child learns about gravity, stability, weight and balance. Early maths concepts. Depth, width, height, length, measurement, volume, area, classification, shape, symmetry, mapping, equality and inequality.
Language development, increasing vocabulary knowledge, as you read to them. Creativity as they make up stories to the pictures. Sequencing, as they see they have to read the book in a certain order.
Discovering and exploring as they use different materials to make something, creativity, fine muscle co-ordination as they use scissors, or fine paint brushes, self–esteem when they see their completed work.
Measurements, fine motor skills when using measuring spoons and stirring, science experiments as they see that yeast helps the dough to rise or jelly wont set if not kept in the fridge. Reasoning learns about nutrition.
Tidy up time
Social skills and orderliness, discipline, responsibility. Sorting, matching and classifying, as they have to put things away in their right places.
Outside and Nature
There is so much to be learnt by allowing our kids to play outside. Running or riding a bike develops large muscles. Seeing how an earthworm crawls in the soil or catching butterflies, they learn science skills. Or just playing in the sand, measuring sand from one cup to another.
Encourage free play in your children; it will be the most important contribution you as a parent can make to their learning, especially in these early foundational years.