Playtime is a whole lot of fun but it’s also highly important for a child’s development. Karen Bevan is the CEO of Playgroups NSW and she’s done a lot of research into learning through play.
“Play is the work of children," she explains. "It's how they begin to engage and make sense of their world and how they start to understand other people’s world. Play is actually a core and intrinsic part of what being a child is."
Listen to Karen’s interview with Kinderling Conversation:
Karen says it’s critical for kids to have these playful experiences often, starting from just a few weeks old when they are becoming aware of their surroundings. So how exactly does play help a child's development?
1. Play aids future learning
“Children are wired to play, says Karen. “This is what they need to do.”
Karen explains how the research is clear; the benefit of play is that it’s how children learn. We need to enable that and create opportunities for it, so they can learn well in the future.
By stacking blocks, counting and mathematical play, kids become aware of ideas such as numbers and gravity. Through play they have a foundation for future learning while also doing something that brings them joy.
2. Develops relationships
Karen points out that the focus of play is not just on building future transactional skills but that kids have a solid childhood.
“Great childhoods are built on really loving relationships with caregivers, safe environments and the opportunity to play.”
Play helps build those core relationships, encouraging trust and love.
“As parents and carers, we can use play to build on that really important bond that creates the bedrock of children’s social and emotional development.”
3. Build social and emotional skills
Building empathy in children is a worldwide movement at the moment, says Karen and play builds upon this emotion.
“Play is where children take risks, learn boundaries, to understand how other people feel and learn empathy.”
By playing with our children and giving them play opportunities with others, their empathy, social and emotional skills, and their capacity to make intelligent decisions are all developed, which is critical for later in life.
4. Helps independence
It’s important to let children play on their own as well. Different experiences build different skills and light up different neural pathways in the brain.
Independent play is developed through time with siblings and carers too, even if it’s just 30 seconds of ‘peek-a-boo’ for very little ones, says Karen.
“We are learning that children need to build executive functioning, an extremely fancy term which is about those skills around how do you create order, how do you make a list and follow through a series of tasks. It's also how do you manage self-regulation and when things don’t go your way.”
These are all independent skills that we need in the future, which can’t necessarily be learnt alone.
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