Early childhood is underpinned by a long established tradition which emphasises the central role of play in early learning and development. According to the theorist Friedrich Froebel (1887):
“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul”.
This is one of the first definitions of play and was provided by the founder of play based learning, Friedrich Froebel, and it alone encompasses everything that play represents.
Why is a play-based approach important?
The importance of play in the early years cannot be disputed as quality early childhood education is extremely important in determining a child’s future achievements. High quality care after the age of two can produce a range of benefits to the social, emotional and cognitive development of the child. Through self appraisal and observation, and the willingness to be open to new ideas can give the children we care for the opportunities to develop in a positive way helping them to achieve their full potential.
When children play, they:
- Explore the world – natural and social
- Develop and practise social and language skills that may be more complex than in everyday activities
- Expand and challenge their physical skills
- Experiment with new ideas including symbolic competence required for formal learning
- Enhance their self-confidence
- Think and express themselves creatively
- Respond to experiences with or without language
- Develop their sense of self and identity.
What does play look like?
- Children may play on their own in solitary play; alongside someone else but
independently in parallel play or with other children in cooperative play
- Play may be structured, where someone else makes the rules and decisions
- Play may be unstructured, where the child is self-directed or takes all the initiative.
What can children learn in play?
- Positive attitudes of self-motivation and self-direction
- Cooperation and group values
- Curiosity, persistence and concentration
- Language and numeracy.
We can support children’s play by
- Allowing for extended periods of time for children to remain in ‘the flow’ of their play
- Providing resources such as safe household items and materials
- Making enough space to focus on the play activity
- Catering for choices of activity, materials and equipment
- Role-modelling to encourage and extend ideas
- Challenging them with more complex thinking, novel ideas or experiences
As early years practitioners we must take responsibility in ensuring that we are in a position of understanding children’s development through play based learning and realising the importance of play, hence supporting children further in the learning process