Opinion: The Importance of Play

You are not alone if you are a parent that has watched your child playing at kindy and thought:

• Is my child learning anything, aren’t they just playing?
• How is playing going to help my child with ‘school readiness’?
• Why is my child not being taught anything?

There is huge pressure on us as parents to provide the best foundation for our child’s learning. It is not uncommon to look into our young child’s eyes and feel petrified that the choices we make on their behalf regarding their education will either set them on the path for success (whatever we deem that to be, and unfortunately in Western culture that has a direct correlation to status, wealth and power) or to condemn them to a life of destitution and misery – of course that may just be me! Nonetheless, supporting our children’s learning is an important part of our role as parents. Yet again, my take home message is for us to take the pressure off ourselves as parents and the flow on effect will be taking the pressure off our young children to be able to recite their ABC’s and know their numbers, colours and the periodic table as early as possible. Taking the pressure off does not mean that learning, growth and development is not important but I am suggesting that we shying away from teaching academic concepts via rote learning and testing (via questions and performing to others), and to holistic growth and development
via engagement and fun – PLAY.

In an article called “School readiness (for Early Years) – how to know if your little one is ready for big school” (from the Australian Government Learning Potential website (learningpotential.gov.au) school readiness is defined as the “measure of knowledge, skills and behaviours that enable children to participate and succeed in school”. School readiness is not about your child’s ability to read, write and do basic maths but it is about the development of the whole child. The following areas for continuing development were described:

• SOCIAL SKILLS
• EMOTIONAL REGULATION
• LANGUAGE SKILLS
• COGNITIVE SKILLS
• PHYSICAL HEALTH AND CO-ORDINATION
• SELF HELP SKILLS

As parents we sometimes think that play is unimportant or an adjunct to formal teaching. However, guided play is the work of childhood and has been shown to be the most effective method of learning for young children in both educational settings and home. Play provides active engagement with themselves, others and the world and assists in building and strengthening brain pathways. It is impossible to separate children’s play from their learning and development.

Learning through play is most effective when a child’s experience is scaffolded when needed, by an interactive adult. For example, a young child cannot be expected to learn via play on their own for an extended period of time, and equally a child cannot fully benefit from play if an adult is continually intervening unnecessarily.

Learning Potential highlights that it is important to remember that “every child develops at their own pace and has their own individual strengths, interests, temperament, approach to learning and parenting experience”.

PLAY CAN:

• Increase feelings of success and optimism
• Reduce stress
• Increase wellbeing
• Allow freedom to make choices and creativity
• Encourage mastery, interest and engagement
• Enable opportunity to take risks and overcome frustrations, challenges and fears
• Promote curiosity, openness, resilience, enthusiasm and persistence
• Support exploration, experimentation, discovery and problem-solving
• Encourage memory skills and language development
• Build relationships and connections with others, develop friendships
• Provide learning opportunity to resolve con icts
• Develop an awareness and opportunity to regulate emotions

@hannabeavenpsychology 

hannabeavenpsychology.com.au