How children learn through play

Learning can be in everyday activities
Learning can be in everyday activities Photo: Getty Images

Did you know that when your toddler or preschooler builds a block tower, draws a picture or mucks around in the sandpit, they are actually preparing for school?

And did you know that your house, the local playground, and your local community are the perfect settings to teach your kids the skills they’ll need to be school-ready? Well, they are!

When you child begins school, you might be expecting a classroom with rows of tables and chairs, books and pencils. But these days, your child’s classroom may look more like a play space then a space for serious ‘learning’.

And there’s a good reason for that! Learning and education have changed since we went to school. We now know so much more about how children learn. Sitting at a desk, watching the board, and completing worksheets all day doesn’t necessarily provide the rich learning environment our kids need.

Instead, kids need opportunities to explore, do, watch, create and self-navigate. That’s why modern day classrooms are set up for kids to learn in a multitude of ways. There are tables and chairs for writing practice and other activities, but there are also couches for reading, hands-on learning spaces for experimenting, and craft centres for creating.

We know from research that our kids’ brains are developing everyday. Every time they dance or run around, mould something in their hands or stack blocks together they are creating neural pathways that build their capacity. And play offers a fun and enjoyable way to learn vital skills.

We still want our kids to learn the ‘3 Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic. But we also want them to learn other skills such as critically analysing information, applying knowledge, and being creative. After all, we’re trying to prepare our kids for jobs we can only imagine!

That’s why play is such a rich tool for learning. Rather than being too formal or structured, it allows kids to chart their own course, solve problems, and learn from others. Kids use their imagination, develop motor skills, and can also learn facts and figures through play.

In a classroom setting or with their siblings at home, they also learn how to share and get along with others. Because they’re enjoying themselves, kids are likely to learn more quickly, and also gain a sense of satisfaction and wellbeing from their play.

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Our kids do need to learn how to read, write and add up. But they also need to learn so many other life skills. And all of these can be learned through play.

It begins at home every time we read our kids a story, let them run around in the backyard or help mix the cake batter. Children learn everyday and everywhere –at home, in the classroom, and in the community. We can help our children’s learning and development way before they get to school by letting them play!

Ways your children are learning through play:

  • Art and craft activities help them to learn fine motor skills and stretch their imaginations
  • Physical activity helps them learn balance, speed, strength and stamina
  • Building activities help them to plan, organise and problem solve
  • Books, songs, and conversation help them learn language and literacy skills
  • Playing with others play helps them to learn about themselves as separate from others, how to negotiate and share, and how to get along with others

Jodie Benveniste is a psychologist, parenting author, and the director of parentwellbeing.com. She also hosts the St John Grammar’s Learning Early video series, which has more info on learning in the early years and preparing your children for school.

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