why is play so important to your growing, learning child?

Why is play so important to your growing, learning child?

Scientist, Playwright or Mathematician – Who will your playing child be today?

From The Learning Child set of talks and materials


Your child will have no hesitancy in freely initiating or valuing the learning potential of play.  But why is play so important to your growing, learning child?

When you offer your child resources, ideas and opportunities to engage in meaningful play; within spaces where they feel a sense of ownership; their natural explorations will see them thrive.

They will set their own challenges as they experience pattern, problem solving, and early mathematical thinking. As they trial new words, their vocabulary is growing, getting ready for later writing. As they combine, transport, adapt and utilise objects, they are becoming little scientists.

Children need opportunities to reflect on their ideas, unconstrained by adult objectives or expected outcomes   

When children play freely with real objects and materials, they create links with what is familiar, making connections in their learning as they consider what they are doing with a greater level of purposeful thinking – rather than their ability to simply follow your logic. 

  • Given time to think, ponder and return, children can experiment with their ideas before committing them as fact.
  • Water, sand or mud play allows for explorations of cause and effect, as an understanding of relationships between actions and consequences develop. 
  • Experimentation allows your child to explore trial and error, demonstrating inventiveness and risk taking.

In free play there are no wrong answers, allowing children to persist with flexibility and curiosity within safe boundaries.

Allow your child the time and space to discover and quietly reflect as they move around freely, revisiting and embedding concepts as their capabilities develop.  And involve them in the care, upkeep, organisation and stocking of their environment, supporting them in understanding why this is important.

Offer them appropriate challenges and risk, letting them manage their own disputes and solve their own problems.  You can offer support if need be, but resist getting too involved or solving problems for them.  This denies them the personal sense of involvement that can really promote their ideas of what they can achieve.

When done through play, you can spot misconceptions in their understanding, tactfully guiding without correcting.

It can become easy to focus on how the media suggests your child will learn best – undoubtedly through a product it is trying to sell you.  When what your child needs is to experience their success, to build secure confidence in their abilities and the strength to meet and succeed within future challenges.

If you want this for your child, they need opportunities to make choices in their learning, with challenging, active experiences as they see the rewards of their perseverance.  So, take care not to invade their experiences, or be too quick to intervene.

Recognise why free play is so important to your growing, learning child and limit activities that tend to dominate their attention

Your child is not driven by long term goals, but rather questions occurring to them here and now.  As such they need freedom to respond to whatever is driving them in the moment. 

With a limit to how much information they can keep in their mind, and the need to allow ideas to germinate, interruptions and distractions will derail their learning experiences.  So, promote their learning through the resources you offer, with sufficient time for them to get stuck in.  And always look to avoid the lure of the flashing screen.


Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.   www.nurturingchildhoods.co.uk

DEVELOPING EVERY CHILD’S POTENTIAL

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