How Do Children Learn Through Play?

Children learn through play every day. It plays a key role in a child’s early development, helping to establish both communication and language skills. The first years of a child’s life are when the most brain development happens, and play a significant role in their future social and academic achievement.

The benefits of learning through play are enormous and include:

  • Learning problem solving and cause and effect
  • Develop a child’s curiosity, imagination, and creativity
  • Build both fine and gross motor skills
  • Build self-esteem and independence
  • How to work together and share
  • Learning how to compromise and resolve conflicts

When a child learns through play, they develop important social and language skills. They find it a stimulating and engaging time as they decide what and how they play. The question is though, how exactly do children learn through play?

How Do Children Learn Through Play?

Over the years, there have been some famous theories on learning through play created by psychologists. Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner each had their own theory which have shaped the way children are cared for and educated. It is generally understood that children learn in different ways to adults, and that play is often a full body activity.

As such, it is a multi-sensory experience and one that comes naturally for children of all ages. Play is used to help a child make sense of their world and themselves. When learning through doing, they will make decisions, discover cause and effect, grow their creativity and imagination.

Play can also have different levels of control for the child:

  • Free play

Play that is child initiated and directed is called free play. The child makes decisions about what activities to do without any adult influence. This allows the child the freedom to choose when to play, and provides familiarity and comfort to the child as they are in control.

  • Guided play

This play has clear learning goals established by adults. As such, distractions are reduced, though children are still able to engage and explore how they would like when they play. The adults, be they carers or teachers, keep focused on the learning goals while being responsive to the child’s actions and interests. This is usually through talking with the child about what they are doing, giving feedback, and modelling new strategies.

  • Directed play

Teacher directed play is where the child has the least amount of control, as the teacher sets out what is going to happen. Activities are structured, resources are limited, rules are set, and the timeframe is limited.

Children should be allowed to experience play in different ways. Playing make believe and experiencing different sensations helps their cognitive development. Physical development is achieved through being active and by interacting and playing in different situations, a child’s social-emotional development is nurtured.

Childcare centres are well placed to help children learn through play. However, parents and caregivers can also provide the rich experiences and interaction that are so important too. Your local library, health professional or educator are available for advice too. Then there is your child; take their lead and play together!

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