Play is an important part of a child’s early development. Playing helps young children’s brains to develop and enhance their language and communication skills. Simple games of peek-a-boo, shaking a rattle, or singing a song are much more important than just a way to pass the time.
Why is learning through play important in the early years?
Through play, children and young people of all ages develop problem-solving skills, imagination and creativity, language and observation skills, and memory and concentration. Children and young people use play to test their theories about the world and their place in it.
There are so many benefits of playing in a child’s learning and development:
- play builds imagination and creativity; during play, kids stretch their imaginations;
- play fosters cognitive growth;
- play delivers emotional and behavioral benefits;
- play improves literacy;
- play encourages greater independence;
- play promotes physical fitness.
Children learn critical skills and develop them as they play. When children choose to play, they are not thinking, “Now I am going to learn something from this activity.” Yet their play creates powerful learning opportunities across all areas of development. Development and learning are complex and holistic, yet skills across all developmental domains can be encouraged through play, including motor, cognitive, social, and emotional skills.
Indeed, in playful experiences, children tap a breadth of skills at any one time. Often this occurs during ‘corner play’ or ‘center time’ in the context of early learning or pre-primary programs. Corner play, when well planned, promotes child development and learning competencies more effectively than any other pre-primary activity. By choosing to play with what they like to do, children develop skills in all areas of development: intellectual, social, emotional and physical.
For example, while children are playing, they can try out new social skills (e.g., sharing toys, agreeing on how to work together with materials), and they often take on some challenging cognitive tasks (such as figuring out how to make a building with smaller blocks when the larger ones are not available). Children are ‘hands-on’ learners. They acquire knowledge through playful interaction with objects and people.
They need a lot of practice with solid objects to understand abstract concepts. For example, by playing with geometric blocks, they understand that two squares can form a rectangle and two triangles can form a square. From dancing a pattern such as step forward, step back, twirl, clap and repeat, they begin to understand the features of patterns that are the foundation for mathematics. Pretend or ‘symbolic’ play (such as playing house or market) is especially beneficial: in such play, children express their ideas, thoughts and feelings, learn how to control their emotions, interact with others, resolve conflicts and gain a sense of competence.
Play sets the foundation for the development of critical social and emotional knowledge and skills. Through play, children learn to forge connections with others, share, negotiate and resolve conflicts, and learn self-advocacy skills. Play also teaches children leadership as well as group skills. Furthermore, play is a natural tool that children can use to build their resilience and coping skills as they learn to navigate relationships, deal with social challenges, and conquer their fears, for example, through re-enacting fantasy heroes.
More generally, play satisfies a basic human need to express imagination, curiosity and creativity, which are key resources in a knowledge-driven world. They help us to cope, find pleasure, and use our imaginative and innovative powers. Indeed, the critical skills that children acquire through play in the preschool years form part of the fundamental building blocks of the future that we at CEFARH try to accomplish through our activities aimed at “strengthening learning through play in early childhood education”.
What we are doing in schools
As CEFARH Foundation Uganda, we are trying our best to integrate learning play, promoting access to quality inclusive primary education for children of age 6-12 through traditional dances, debating, and other playful competition; we are doing this in partnership with Global Fund for Children and with the support of the Lego Foundation.
Currently, we are in over 20 primary schools with debate activities to develop their self-esteem and ability to read, write and speak English in the public; we make them love school and build them to be better leaders in the future. CEFARH does this to make children able to speak their minds and what hider their studies. This is raising a lot of commitment from head teachers to embrace learning through play and promoting debating activities in their schools.