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  Learning through play

It is widely accepted that children need a balanced and varied diet to lead a healthy life. This is also true of children’s play, children need to be given the opportunity to play with a variety of toys to expand their experiences and help them to develop to their full potential. Play is the essential joy of childhood and is also the way children learn about themselves, their environment and the people around them. Through play, children learn to solve problems, get along with other people, control their bodies, develop creativity and understand the diverse range of concepts that our world is based upon e.g. language, numeracy and science.
Children’s play is accompanied by boundless energy and imagination as they stretch their capability to the maximum, constantly developing new and creative ways to use their toys. Manipulating their toys in creative ways helps children to learn that the world is a diverse place with unlimited possibilities. Therefore toys have an exciting role in helping children to become mature, confident and imaginative adults.
There have been many studies relating to child development that have provided theories that contradict each other in terms of how children learn and develop but all seem to agree that ‘play’ is an essential activity to develop the entire range of skills needed to become independent young adults. Observation of children and adult interactions strongly suggests that children thrive on interaction with others and through play they are practising the skills for life.
Language & communication skills develops as a child plays and interacts with others. Beginning with cooing games with a parent and evolving to sophisticated levels such as telling stories and jokes, the ability to use language increases as the child plays and interacts with others. Communication can be greatly enhanced by parent interaction of play.
Numeracy skills develop as children play a variety of games that involve mathematical concepts, including rhyming games e.g. What time is it Mr Wolf, board games, songs, competitive games, matching & sequencing activities etc.
Social skills grow as the child plays. Learning to cooperate, negotiate, take turns and follow rules are important skills learned in early games.
Emotional well-being develops through positive play experiences. When children feel successful and capable as they play, they acquire skills to be self-reliant which develops confidence essential for emotional health. Sharing play experiences also forges strong bonds between parent and child throughout childhood.
Knowledge & understanding of how the world works develops as a result of problem solving with toys: What fits here? How big is that? Is this colour the same as that colour? How can I balance these? A child moves on to higher levels of thought as he or she plays in a stimulating environment.
Physical skills are developed through movement as a child learns to reach, grasp, crawl, run, climb and balance. Dexterity and find manipulative skills develop as he or she handles objects in play.

Creativity & imagination develops through a variety of play activities enabling the child to begin to learn some of the roles and rules of society.

Children use play to practise existing skills and develop new ones, even our youngest children will use play to build on and extend their current knowledge and skills. To offer a diverse range of learning opportunities through play we must ensure that play activities are varied and include play from both natural and commercial situations.

Jean Piaget is probably one of the most famous child psychologists and has been very influential for early years practice globally. Although some of his theories are debatable and many researchers since have put forward strong argument against many of his theories, it is important to recognise the work he did as it provoked a lot of interest, initiating further research into the nature of children’s learning processes.

Piaget observed that children seemed to display very similar sequences in their learning from babies through to adolescence. He noticed that children of similar ages made similar mistakes and appeared to develop similar ideas about how the world worked. Piaget placed little emphasis on the importance of adult interaction as he felt that children were empty vessels who could develop without a great deal of input from adults, he suggested children were ‘lone scientists’. Many theories since have a gone along way in proving this theory inadequate and strongly suggest that adult interaction is essential to the development of children into healthy, social, well prepared young adults for tomorrow’s society.