How important is play when learning?

Children play because it gives them pleasure. They do not play when it is not enjoyable or if they are bored with the game. Play is also an essential part of their education because while they are playing they are learning. It is an important part of socialisation.

Children need opportunities both to play with other children and to play on their own. When two or more children are together, many different games are possible. Whatever the game, the children will be learning how others behave and how to mix easily with them. At other times, children need to play on their own and without interference in order to learn how to amuse themselves. If adults spend too much time playing with a child, the child will feel bored and miserable when left on her own. Then, instead of playing happily, the child will spend her time trying to demand attention.


Benefits of Play

1. Play enables children to find out about themselves and the world. It allows them to:

A. discover
B. experiment
C. create
D. concentrate
E. express ideas
F. develop speech
G. develop muscles
H. invent
I. learn new skills
J. learn how other people behave
K. role-play (pretend to be someone else)
L. share possessions
M. use the imagination
N. co-operate with others
O. show off (children like to let others know what they can do)
P. act protectively towards someone less powerful than themselves.

2. Play helps towards happiness. A child who is absorbed in play is likely to be a happy child, as play produces feelings of satisfaction and achievement.

3. Play helps prevent boredom. Preventing a child from being bored is very important, as boredom can quickly lead to bad temper, irritability and destructiveness.

4. Play can help reduce stress. The acting out of stressful situations can help them to seem more familiar and therefore less frightening. For example, by playing ‘schools’ a child becomes familiar with the idea of going to school. This will help to reduce any nervousness about school which the child might have. In the same way. playing ‘doctors and nurses’ can help prepare a child for a stay in hospital.


Different Types of Play

Children like variety and during the day will change from one type of play to another. Sometimes they use the same toy. More often they use different toys because changes stimulate different types of play. Six types of play can be recognised and each forms part of a child’s total development.

  • Discovery play (exploring play) enables a child to find out about things: what they are like – their size, shape, texture, colour; how they are made; what she can do with them, for example playing with water or sand. The child will also discover that things can be broken, and this can help to teach her to take care of her possessions.
  • Physical play (exercise) takes place when a child is actively moving around – running, jumping, climbing, crawling, balancing, swinging, throwing a ball, and so on.
  • Creative play is when a child expresses her own ideas and feelings to make something which is original, for example, a picture, an animal in modelling dough, a house in building blocks, and so on. A young child is able to express feelings and ideas more easily by painting and drawing than by using words. As the child becomes more skilled with words, she may then be able to write a story, poem or play.
  • Imaginative play is ‘pretend’ or fantasy play. The child imagines that she is someone else or an animal such as a rabbit or dog. Children imitate the ways of adults when they play in a Wendy house or play ‘shopping’. Attempting to behave like someone else helps the child to understand more clearly the ways other people behave.
  • Manipulative play involves skillful use of the hands. During manipulative play the hands, eyes and brain are being trained to co-ordinate, that is, to work smoothly together. Babies become increasingly skillful with their hands as they play with rattles, soft toys and other objects. Later on, they benefit from playing with such things as modelling dough.
  • Social play takes place when children play together. It teaches them to co-operate, to share, and to be honest. It also teaches them that antisocial behaviour, like cheating, leads to isolation and loss of friendship. Children often quarrel and in doing so learn about each other’s reactions.

At any one time, a child may be involved in more than one type of play. For example, when a baby plays with a rattle, she discovers what it is like as she learns to use her hands – this is both discovery and manipulative play. When a group of children play with bricks it could involve all types of play.

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