At Flying Start we recognise that play is important in the development of language, creative problem-solving and mathematics skills. We have developed our Playful Learning classes as a way to encourage learning through play, a concept backed by scientific studies and learning from education systems in other countries.
Play is what children do naturally, but it also is the best way for them to learn important life skills. A literature review for Play England, entitled A world without play, listed several academics who linked play to development in children. For example, Piaget and Vygotsky, two of the most influential 20th century theorists of cognitive development, both stress that play has an essential role in children’s development. According to Piaget, through play children learn to interact with their environment and form their knowledge of the world, therefore play is one of the most important forms of cognitive development. You only have to observe children playing shop or pretending to be evil monsters to realise how their creativity is boosted, their vocabulary expands and they find innovative solutions to their own problems.
By playing, children physically develop their brains. “The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” says Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, quoted in NPR ED. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed,” he says. It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control centre, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.
We can look at countries such as Finland to see the benefit of play in early years development. In the Finnish school system, which repeatedly appears at the top of Europe’s rankings, children don’t start formal schooling until seven. “Play” time is structured, with a mix of “free play” and teacher-directed activities, and children are assessed by teachers and nursery nurses with specialist degrees and vocational qualifications, who evaluate the children’s development.
The concepts of free and structured play have been studied by German psychologists, quoted in the Pacific Standard Magazine. Structured play offers other benefits including introducing a child to new ideas and opportunities, enhancing their development and learning abilities, supporting healthy brain development, increasing physical and social skills, providing experience in cooperation, self-discipline and perseverance, developing a positive self-image and building team skills. Free play allows children to develop the flexibility needed to adapt to changing circumstances and environments, a skill which will support children throughout their lives.
How to help your child to play:
- Create a supportive environment: children are most likely to engage when they feel safe and emotionally secure
- Provide a range of opportunities: children benefit from experiencing a good mix of different types of play; this involves providing appropriate equipment and materials which inspire and support children to engage in play
- Playful projects: set projects for your child around themes he or she is interested in which include opportunities to play
- Participate: play with your child e.g. playing with modelling clay or being a customer in your child’s grocery store or hairdressers really helps to support play and build his or her vocabulary
- Create the time for play: Free up your child’s busy schedule and plan in some time when they are free just to play
For more information about Playful Learning classes contact Flying Start on 10494 772 898, or visit our website www.flyingstarttuition.co.uk