Importance of Play in the Early Years (Part 1 of 2)

Importance of Play in the Early Years (Part 1 of 2)

Most early education institutions today are adopting play as the primary method of learning. Preschools around the world have come up with many interesting teaching philosophies to help children in their formative years of learning. There are at least five different teaching methods being followed by education systems worldwide that use play as their central theme in imparting early education. These are the Playway Method, the Reggio Emilia Method, the Waldorf Method, the Montessori Method, and the Bank Street Method. 

Even as the importance of play in early childhood is being understood at the institutional level, as a parent do you worry whether you understand what it means for you at home? Are you overwhelmed with the barrage of options coming your way to understand how to prioritise your child’s time? Well, you are not alone. In this article, we will share with you what play means for your child in their formative years of development and how to maximise benefit from it. Let us begin by talking about what is play.

What Is Play

Play consists of any activity that children perform for self-amusement. According to research, around 80% of the human brain is developed as a child turns 3, which further highlights the importance of learning in the early years. Children are natural players and when exposed to different forms of activities, they develop social, emotional, language, reasoning and mathematical skills effectively. 

For a child, play involves choice, and any environment can be conducive for ideal learning—be it home or school, indoors or outdoors. Play gives the child an opportunity to experiment with various concepts and discover personal interests. Through natural and spontaneous play, a child learns about the world around them and forms connections with others. They also learn to dab with new ideas and skillsets, solve problems on their own and show their imaginative streak. Outlined below are some of the benefits of play in a child’s life.

Benefits of Play in the Formative Years

  1. Stimulates a child’s brain development
  2. Improves their intelligence levels
  3. Keeps them energetic
  4. Fuels their creative imagination
  5. Improves their communication, vocabulary and language skills
  6. Enhances their social skills and instils empathy
  7. Develops problem-solving skills
  8. Improves their relationships with others
  9. Instills confidence and self-esteem in them

Early Childhood Games

There are several games that you can introduce your toddler to: peek-a-boo; shaking a rattle; shuffling through the pages of a picture book; singing songs; repeating rhymes; movement activities that allow them the time to run, skip, hop, catch, jump, balance and walk; drawing with wax crayons; finger painting; sponge painting and more. These are simple activities that lay the foundations for formal education and teach children about communication, develop their motor skills and help with their problem-solving ability.

A Playful Approach to Learning

You can start by handing out toys, clothing items, building blocks, boxes, shapes, and numbers for your child to play with. Letting your child experiment with a variety of play items will help them develop certain abilities. 

  • Balancing blocks and running around in the backyard will help develop their physical ability.
  • Playing with toy dinosaurs will help them learn new vocabulary.
  • Creating a menu for a pretend restaurant will help them in their literacy skills.
  • Arranging blocks and stacking rings will give them an idea about shapes and sizes.
  • Introducing them to sand and water will teach them about the concept of solids and liquids.
  • Putting a sock in your hand and turning it into a puppet or using a block and turning it into a play-car will fuel their creative imagination. 
  • Reading storybooks and introducing them to picture books will help in their recall and cognitive skills. 
  • Building things out of waste materials will teach your child the effective ways to reuse old things.
  • Drawing with crayons will help them in their fine motor skills. 

Getting Involved as a Parent

Parents play an integral role in early childhood. As a parent, it is imperative to provide quality time (not quantity), space and the right resources for your child. As much as it is important for you to simply closely observe your children as they play, it is equally significant to engage with them when they ask you to. Monitor them, listen to them, support them as they dabble with new skills and intervene only when it is strictly necessary. Allow them to think out of the box, encourage them find solutions to problems they face while playing (Our Adventures of Samara and Alphabet series encourages a child to use their problem-solving skils), make sure they are engaged in safe play, be patient with them, appreciate their efforts, encourage them throughout the process of play and, most importantly, have fun with them.

There is no dearth of learning that you can impart to your child through play. All you need is to be creative in your approach to lend a spark to your child’s creative genius. Our How to Play series has the perfect set of books to encourage learning through play and help your toddler achieve several developmental milestones. The books offer the right amount of prompts and clues to fuel a child’s imagination as they play outdoors or play with a sock, a car, with family, with paints, with a ball, and even with absolutely nothing. You can order your copy now

Sources: The American Academy of Pediatrics offers useful age-specific ideas for playful learning