How do children learn through play?

Play is probably the most powerful learning tool that there is for our children. Play is an incredibly important part of children’s learning and development. It supports their brain growth and cognitive development, physical development, and supports the way children learn social skills. Some of the things we do with our children may seem as though we are simply passing the time, and come very naturally to us as parents, however, these seemingly simple things are developing neural pathways in our children’s brains and helping them to learn essential skills. 

For example:

  • Singing nursery rhymes support your child’s early communication skills
  • Knocking over a tower build fine and gross motor skills
  • By simply talking to and interacting with your baby, perhaps waiting for a gurgle response, this is the very earliest introduction to conversation

When you are a child, every experience is brand new. During play, children have the opportunity to safely test out their ideas, practice, take on a different role and problem solve.

Why is play important in the early years?

Play is important for everyone, but especially children in their early years. Did you know that we learn more in the first five years of life than we do at any other stage during our lifetime? Roughly 80% of brain development is completed by age three and 90 % by age five. This is a great video on brain development in under five’s. In the early years, we have the most wonderful opportunity to lay the foundations for learning, ready for when more formal education starts at age five (in the UK).

However that’s not to say that play-based learning doesn’t have a place in a classroom setting, in fact, I would say that a quality learning environment is based on play and children’s interests, this is where all learning should start. When children’s interests are the starting point for learning we teach them that;

  • What they have to say and what they are interested in matters
  • It means that they start their journey of discovery from a place of comfort and security
  • Their learning is more likely to be sustained and extended as they are building on what they already know

What are the benefits of learning through play?

There are so many benefits to learning through play. In the curriculum for children under five in the UK, Early Years Foundation Stage, there are seven areas of learning that all have ‘Early Learning Goals’ for children to work towards, every single one of these can be achieved through learning through play.

Here are some examples of how you can support your children with the ‘Areas of Development’ and play-based activities for under-fives:

Area of development

Play-based activity
Personal, social and emotional development Take turns having a tea party
Communication and Language Sing songs together
Physical Development Running races
Literacy Read a rhyming book
Maths Look out for house numbers
Understanding the world Go on a bug hunt
Expressive arts and design Create a model from your recycling

How do I know if my child is progressing?

It’s so important to know that all children learn at their own pace and in their own unique way, and whilst it can be very easy to compare children to their peers, this doesn’t actually tell us much about our own child’s learning journey. 

Your child’s health and development will be monitored by professionals and be recorded in your child’s ‘red book’. The first formal development review is between the ages of two-two and a half. This should be completed with you, your child’s health visitor and key early years practitioner (if they are attending an early years setting). You can read more about what to expect during the review here.

If your child is attending an early years setting, the practitioners there will be observing your child and helping them take the next steps in their learning. There should be opportunities to discuss your child’s learning with their key person at regular points throughout the year. This should be a two-way process with your thoughts and observations feeding into the information that is collected to make assessments on the way children are learning. If you have any concerns, do discuss them with your child’s setting so that they have an accurate picture of your child’s learning, and also they may suggest some strategies that could support your child with their learning. 

If you are concerned about your child’s development, it is worth having a conversation with your health visiting team, you can find their details in your child’s Red Book or by contacting your GP.

If you would like to know more about your child’s learning and development and understand their behaviour you can currently access my Understanding Your Child’s Behaviour workshop at the sale price here.