Let’s play: The importance of play in children’s learning
Children enjoy, want, and are motivated to play—we were born to play! Human play morphs throughout our lives, and our inherent wiring to play leads to a bouquet of benefits which forms the heart of this piece.
Scholars and many teachers argue that play is indispensable to our development as humans. Infants begin to make sense of the world through their bodies and adults experience creativity and build cognitive skills while at play. We all can—babies, children, and adults—experience joy, friendship, and love through play.
Play allows children to solve problems, clarify their thinking, and develop ideas. For example, playing “doctor” can help children work through experiences of illness or understanding health. Children learn about their environments by exploring their homes, schools, neighbourhoods, and expanded world.
Creativity is sparked through play. Fantasy and imagination are developed and enhanced in all kinds of ways, for example through dramatic play, storytelling, and the arts. Creative strategy can be experienced and learned on the soccer pitch or hockey rink.
We learn to and refine our ability to express ourselves through play. Laughter, sadness, exhilaration, frustration, or anger can be experienced while at play. In fact, children learn about self-regulation through play. We develop empathy and resilience through play too.
Children learn how to be social and democratic through play. Co-operation is learned at play, particularly because kids want to be included and stay at play with others! Rules can teach children how to become strategic thinkers too.
Physical skills are routinely engaged in play. For example, early on young children build forts with pillows, hit pots and pans, dance, and run around the house. Later, physical play might be initiated at an impromptu basketball games at recess or hide and go seek in the neighbourhood.
Engendering play is a critical role for parents and teachers. Play led by children is particularly rewarding and motivating. Of course, formal play through sports, dance, and other extracurricular or after school programs are important, as is our weaving of play into everyday life at home and at school.
Parents and teachers must keep in mind that play can emphasize or eliminate cultural, physical, emotional, and cognitive differences, depending on the play, so we must be mindful as we observe children at play. It’s our role to make our homes and classrooms a safe place for children to play, and knowing when to intervene and being at the ready to help children is critical.