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Child’s Play: The Most Important Learning of All

Through play, a children make sense of the world around them.  They develop social and cognitive skills, mature emotionally, and gain the self-confidence they need to engage in new experiences and environments.

Learning through play includes social rules and boundaries, literacy, numeracy, problem-solving, language acquisition, empathy, cooperation, and social, physical, and emotional skills.

Play is an activity chosen by the child, not the teacher or parent.  It is a natural process. 

learningthruplayThe book “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards” (link here) outlines the key elements of children’s play:

  • Play must be pleasurable and enjoyable.
  • Play cannot have extrinsic goals.  No prescribed learning occurs during play.
  • Play is spontaneous and voluntary.
  • Play involves active engagement of the child.
  • Play can involve make-believe.

How can you encourage learning through play in your home, in your busy day-to-day life? 

Here are some general tips:

  1. Think about the kindergarten classroom.  Try to offer the same kinds of activities in your home and backyard!  For example, sand table = back yard sandbox, water table = bath tub with toys, crafts area = organized child’s desk with a variety of safe materials.  Other “centres” may include activities such as listening, puzzles, play dough, blocks, technology, pets, books, puppets, and dress up.
  2. Don’t have tons of toys “out” all the time.  Too many toys can be overwhelming to a child. 
  3. Rotate toys.  Old toys become new and exciting again when you pull them out of a cupboard!  The same thing goes with books!
  4. Set routines around play.  Help your child learn to clean up an area, and to share with others.
  5. Think about ways to encourage fine-motor and gross-motor development: riding toys and park visits to play on the climbers, and crafts using beads or sewing materials.

What is a “play-based learning” program?  What does it mean in the context of the school system?

Parents all over the province of Ontario scratch their heads wondering what this means for their kindergarten-aged kids facing full school days.  They wonder how it will prepare their child for the world of grade one and beyond. 

The Ontario full-day Kindergarten program for 4 and 5-year olds includes exploration, investigation, and guided and explicit instruction.  Children have opportunities to initiate play and learning, and they can participate in more structured play-based learning alongside a teacher or early childhood educator.

The Montessori Method includes play-based learning. It is an individualized approach with emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural social, psychological, and physical development.  It has a student-centred approach, and encourages children to build creativity and curiosity by asking questions, exploring, and thinking for themselves.  Check out this link for more information about the Montessori Method.

The Reggio Emilia approach also uses play-based learning.  Some of the principles of this philosophy are that children must have some control over the direction of their learning, and they must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing, and hearing.  As well, children must have endless opportunities to express themselves.  Go here to learn more about the Reggio Emilia approach.

Regardless of the school program that you choose for your child, remember the importance of play in your child’s education.  Encourage learning through play throughout your home and day — there are learning opportunities around you all the time!  Have fun!