Play is one of the most effective and significant ways in which young children learn a variety of important social and emotional skills.
Things like exploration, hands-on experience, and cooperation with others help children to build relationships and develop and explore their curiosity, as well as providing practical experience of the world around them.
In this article, we’ll explore the ideas behind learn through play as an educational technique, before suggesting some helpful and stimulating activities to share with your children.
What do we mean by “learn through play”?
Learn through play is an educational technique that expands a child’s horizons and social skills. Being incredibly hands-on, it also helps them better understand and interact with their immediate environment.
Learning through play goes beyond formal learning, to help kids discover how to confront new experiences and improve cognitive skills and emotional behaviors. That’s why most learn through play happens outside the classroom.
A UN report has shown that a child’s early years are crucial for developing a range of skills, as well as emotional intelligence and mental wellbeing. And while kids of all ages can learn through play, it’s the younger learners (up to age 8) who’ll benefit the most.
How do children learn through play?
Young children have a unique way of acquiring new knowledge. They learn by experiencing things — often physically — and by then relating these experiences to their feelings and to how others around them are reacting and interacting. This is especially true before they have developed the verbal skills required to listen and talk.
Play merges the logical and creative parts of a child’s brain, and through full body and mind experiences, helps them develop skills and understand new concepts.
Children can use play to control their emotions and work out how to react in a variety of circumstances. During which they can consider how their actions will affect themselves and others around them.
What’s the science behind learning through play?
Neuroscientists have demonstrated that the rich social interactions involved in play help build healthy brain connections.
As we mentioned above, play stimulates children’s creative impulses as well as helping them associate “correct” actions with good outcomes and “incorrect” actions with negative outcomes.
And when kids play outside, they get physical benefits too. Being active outdoors has been proven to decrease the risk of asthma, as well as providing children with vitamin D. Synthesized in the skin when it’s exposed to sunlight, vitamin D encourages good moods and higher energy levels, and even improves memory! All good stuff.
7 fun learn through play activities
Now that we’ve discussed the theory and benefits behind learn through play, here are some activities to get your kids learning while also having fun.
In the sandpit
Playing in the sandpit combines physical activity, teamwork, and scientific discovery. Digging, building, and working with friends is hugely beneficial for young children, and discovering how things like buckets and other simple tools work are extremely helpful in early years development.
Similarly, playing with water engages a range of important developmental triggers. By wading, splashing, and dipping, kids learn about volumes, gravity, and basic concepts of flow and the movement of liquids. Water play also gently builds strength and hand-eye coordination.
Dress up and role-play allows children to let their imaginations run wild. Give your kids a bunch of old clothes and a few props, and watch their creativity thrive.
Whether they’re just putting on a costume for everyday activities or going as far as creating their own scenarios and improvisations, this is a fantastic activity with some extremely important benefits. Children will learn about adult roles and interests, and will begin to understand the fundamentals of self-dressing, an important life skill.
Painting, drawing, and other artistic pursuits encourage children to explore their environments in sensory ways and develop their own way of looking at the world.
For younger children, painting is a wonderful form of pre-written self-expression, and — of course — it drives creativity. Older kids will learn about form, color, and mixing of shades, as well as the basic and necessary art of tidying up!
Playdough or clay modeling
For when you don’t want to risk your kitchen walls getting covered in pen and paint, clay modeling is a great option. Combining colors and building models encourage a child’s visual problem solving, and the task of molding and shaping strengthens their little fingers as well! And don’t worry if they get a little too interested and have a nibble, commercial playdough is totally non-toxic — thankfully!
Blocks and more
Blocks, puzzles, and playing with shapes are great ways to develop a range of important skills. Things like logic, spatial thinking, and ordering all begin to be developed just by putting shapes together or building things with blocks, and even the most basic functions like recognizing shapes and colors are honed through block play.
Running, jumping, and climbing
Young kids always have an excess of energy — they just love to move! Allowing them to get outside and run, jump, and climb in safe, supervised environments is great for their physical and mental health. And it helps tire them out before bedtime too!
Solving climbing problems, in particular, will help develop their confidence, stimulate their mind, and improve their strength and motor functions.
Learning the fun way
Learning through play is a vital part of a child’s development. It helps children learn a vast and comprehensive range of skills, encompassing the emotional, mental, and physical.
Many children will retain more information and make important connections far more easily through play than they do in a traditional classroom environment. Throw in the social element of learning through play and you’re helping challenge and nurture your child in all the right ways.
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