It’s easy to view play as a frivolous activity – something to entertain children before serious learning begins.
However, play has a very important role in children’s development, acting much like a workout for their developing brains. Free play is actually considered so important that the UN recognises it as a fundamental right of every child.
Self-directed play can enable kids to:
- Explore, understand and interact with the world around them.
- Think creatively and develop their imaginations.
- Overcome challenges and fears, and gain confidence.
- Practice adult-like roles (for example by playing ‘house’)
- Gain decision-making skills.
- Learn how to work in groups with others.
Play can also help brain development in specific ways, through counting, identifying shapes, recognising patterns, classifying objects and practising language.
How play can lay a foundation for later learning
Various types of play can help lay the foundation for science and maths studies in high school and beyond. This includes learning about cause and effect, how objects work, spatial relationships such as distance and direction, and numerical concepts like adding, subtracting and dividing.
Play can also facilitate language development and literacy. For example, children who engage in pretend play have been observed to converse more than when involved in other types of play. This allows them to practice language and expand their vocabulary. Greater use of language in childhood has been linked to better literary outcomes and communication abilities.
The importance of imaginative play for problem solving
Imaginary play allows kids to test scenarios and try out roles. Creative-style pretend play has been linked to a greater ability for flexible and creative problem solving, as it can help kids to recognise that there can be more than one solution to a problem.
Research also indicates that kids who are given the option of working out solutions to a problem themselves through play activities show more motivation than those taught to solve the problem by an adult.
How schools can enhance kids’ learning
Schools can enhance kids’ learning by providing blocks of time for free play, such as 30 minutes to one hour. Larger blocks of time allow kids to get more deeply involved and engage in more complex forms of play.
Installing playground equipment in schools allows kids to engage in self-directed play. It’s important that any play equipment conforms to Australian standards.
Playgrounds need to be designed for safety, and age-appropriate to allow all kids at the school to use them. This includes creating separate play areas for the various age groups.
To find out more about the design, installation and maintenance of playground equipment for your school or kindergarten, get in touch with us for a consultation.