Play is important because :
1. Play lays the foundation for literacy. Through play children learn to make and practise new sounds. They try out new vocabulary, on their own or with friends, and exercise their imagination through storytelling.
2. Play is learning. Play nurtures development and fulfils a baby’s inborn need to learn. Play takes many forms, from shaking a rattle to peek-a-boo to hide-and-seek. Play can be done by a child alone, with another child, in a group or with an adult.
3. Play encourages adults to communicate with the children in their lives. Adults support play by giving children the opportunity to engage in play, by knowing when not to intervene, and by knowing when to intervene.
4. Play gives children the chance to be spontaneous. You may think your child should be rolling the truck on the ground but that doesn’t mean that truck is not equally useful as a stacking toy.
5. Play gives children choice. Having enough toys or activities to choose from will allow children to express themselves.
6. Play gives children space. To practise physical movement, balance and to test their own limits.
7. Play gives adults the chance to learn how to play again. One of the most challenging parts of play is incorporating yourself in it.
8. Play allows adults to learn their child’s body language. Knowing when you should incorporate yourself in your child’s play is key.
9. Play teaches adults patience and understanding. If you do choose to join in your child’s play make sure that you do not try to take it over and force incorporation of your ultimate learning objectives into their play. Structured adult-led activities have their time and place but remember to allow for time for children to control and decide their own play.
10. Play is fun. Learning to play well, both by themselves and with others, sets children up to be contented and sociable.Play Time as Learning Time Children love to play. They enjoy trucks, blocks, dolls, balls, dress-up clothes, puzzles and other toys. Play time provides children with opportunities for learning. In fact, play is really the most important way that children learn about the world around them. Play helps children to grow and develop in many ways. At times, parents might worry that children are “just playing” and not learning things they need to learn. Structured guidance and teaching of young children is essential; however, parents and other caregivers need to remember that play IS learning for young children. Children learn things from play that they can learn through no other interaction. Remembering that play time should be just that – PLAY + TIME – is important for adults.
Learning through play
Play is one of the main ways in which children learn. It helps to build self worth by giving a child a sense of his or her own abilities and to feel good about themselves. Because it’s fun, children often become very absorbed in what they are doing. In turn, this helps them develop the ability to concentrate. Providing children with a range of playthings will help them learn in a number of ways:
- Sand and water play can be an early introduction to science and maths, eg learning that water is fluid, not solid, and that it can be measured in different sized containers.
- Playing with dough, drawing and painting pictures, dressing up, playing with dolls can encourage creativity, imagination and expression of feelings.
- Building blocks, jigsaws and shape sorters can help with recognising different shapes and sizes, putting things in order and developing logic.
- Playing ball games, dancing, running, climbing all help to develop body movement, strength, flexibility and co-ordination skills.
- Games help with turn taking, sharing and mixing with others.
- Singing, playing simple music instruments help to develop rhythm, listening and hearing.
It's important that learning is fun at this age. It needs to be about doing things with them that they like. They might find unusual ways of doing things - for a toddler, building blocks aren't just for making towers, and paint can be used without a brush! Show them how things work, but if they want to experiment, let them.
Don't push your child too hard. Children develop in their own ways and in their own time. Try not to compare them to other children. You can also encourage reading, by reading to and with them. Look at the pictures together; this will help younger children make sense of the words.
The benefits of play are maximized when teachers facilitate play, as limited learning may take place otherwise. Teacher support is also seen as a necessary component of developmentally appropriate practice. Teacher interventions during play take on many possibilities from assisting with problem solving, questioning, redirecting undesired behaviors, and enticing children into play themes. Teachers must also teach play skills to children who have difficulty entering into a play scenario.
Curriculum content for young children is often presented and/or reinforced in the context of play as teachers introduce play themes, provide materials, and help children expand on their ideas. By helping children when planning roles, encouraging children to talk to peers, posing open ended questions, and becoming involved in play, the teacher extends and enhances learning. For example, one role of the teacher is developing an understanding of the specific skills and knowledge children need to develop. Once the children’s play begins, facilitating social interactions as well as assisting children in joining play is a role the teacher will fill. The teacher can also narrate children’s actions as the play scenario unfolds. By being present and on the child’s eye level during play, teacher interactions increase the frequency, duration, and complexity of children’s play, with increased levels of linguistic and cognitive competence (McAfee & Leong, 2010).
When planning for children’s play, teachers can determine specific goals and outcomes they want the child to achieve during play. Teachers should also individualize for children, keeping in mind their current level of cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and language development. For example, the teacher may have the goal of increasing the amount of expressive language a child uses throughout the day. The teacher might invite the child to the dramatic play area with another child who is very verbal and engages easy in play scenarios. The teacher also might provide scaffolding to support children’s learning and development by asking, “Why does the baby need to go to the doctor?” or “How do you think the doctor can help the baby?” This not only provides the child with an opportunity to use expressive language but also provides an opportunity for the child to think and formulate an answer.
Effective teachers build their curriculum upon what the children already know. They offer play experiences in areas where children are familiar with and have prior knowledge and experience. If a child has not had experience with a particular play scenario, he will not be able to expand on the role during fantasy play. Take for example an “Office Prop Box” placed in the dramatic play center one Monday morning. The prop box included many typical things that an office would contain – a keyboard, telephone, calculator, notepads, staple, tape dispenser, paper clips, etc. By Tuesday, the teacher noticed that no one was using the materials for more than a few minutes and the children’s involvement was fleeting. Soon the teacher came to the realization that they had no “real life” experiences to base their role play on as they had never been to an “office.” When the prop box was changed on Thursday to a “Pizza Palace,” children were quickly involved in assuming the roles of a waitress, cook, busboy, and customer. It was obvious this was a real life play scenario they had experienced. Children often will act out themes they are familiar with such as family roles, doctor, school, fast food restaurants, and shopping for food and clothes. When a child puts on a raincoat and a firefighter hat and rushes to rescue his teddy bear from the pretend flames in the playhouse, he is practicing what he already knows about firefighters.
Play and learning should be integrated throughout the day. The facilitation will be the most effective if complemented by a carefully planned classroom environment. The teacher works to minimize conflict and confusion so that children have consistent time and space for play. Children need to be seen as competent individuals who, when given teacher support and interactions with other children, are able to construct knowledge in play settings. Play becomes a springboard for investigating play materials, art materials, the ideas of peers, and the world beyond the classroom. This approach to curriculum focuses on the development of the whole child, with content presented in meaningful contexts. For example, your classroom might visit a train museum and instead of focusing on all of the parts of the train (which leads to rote memorization), the teacher might facilitate the focus on the roles of the people who would work on and ride the train: the conductor, engineer, stoker, café attendant, and the passengers. In this way, children’s play becomes a catalyst for optimal growth and development and more complex play than just focusing on props (Elkind, 2004).
Teachers must be intentional in their planning for play. This includes using their knowledge of growth and development to determine what is age and stage appropriate, individually appropriate, and culturally appropriate for each child in the classroom. Play serves several functions in contributing to children’s social and emotional development when they assume new roles that require new social skills and take the perspectives of their peers. They negotiate roles, share space and materials, express different points of view, resolve disputes, and persuade their peers to assume certain roles (Kostelnik, Whiren, Soderman, & Gregory, 2007). Children are also given the opportunity to work out feelings, emotions, and fears they are unable to address or acknowledge overtly.
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