How does the child come to know, understand, relate to, interact and explore the world around them? The answer is simple – through play. It is an important childhood activity that helps master all developmental needs. Play is a critical need of every child!
Putting it in another way, infants, toddlers, preschool and school-age children all grow and develop over time with tremendous potential and opportunity. These opportunities are found in creativity and self-expression, connections to others, building, maintaining, and sharing play experiences, and more importantly, coming to know more about themselves and the world around them, all of which are at the heart of free play in early childhood.
Playtime is not just about having fun – it’s all about active learning. When your little one recites a nursery rhyme, she is working on language development skills. When she tosses a ball up in the air and catches it on the way down, she is building important gross motor and hand-eye coordination skills. And when your child is involved in pretend play, she is exercising her imagination. This in essence is what play-based learning is all about.
Free play in early childhood comes naturally to children and is an important tool for their cognitive, physical, social and emotional development as well as their imagination and creativity. This is why most parents encourage toddlers and preschoolers to engage in free play and make it a part of their child’s daily routine.
It is through play that toddlers and young children learn to think, create, imagine, communicate, make choices, solve problems, take risks, build physical skills and take on a variety of roles as they interact socially. Children who learn healthy play skills are most likely to feel capable, enjoy success, make friends and learn non-violent ways to interact with others.
When children play, they learn
There are times when children play with friends and sometimes want to be left alone to play on their own. Sometimes they may speak aloud while at play and at other times, be silent in their heads. Sometimes their play is messy or risky and other times, quiet and relaxed.
Free play is when children have full freedom to play in whatever way they want. They have the freedom to select their play materials and to choose an area that is of interest to them. Even begin to take pictures of anything, if that is what catches their fancy. These kinds of pursuits are very important for children as they enable children to express themselves in the ways that they want.
Free play is also important for learning problem-solving skills. Your child may prefer to try and solve a problem or come up with a solution on her own to express her way of thinking. These skills develop rapidly when a child has the habit of playing independently. When a child is playing on her own, she is keeping busy and engaged and is using her imagination and creativity in childhood.
Encourage this kind of activity. Building your child’s independence at a young age will prove to be immensely beneficial later on in life. And the earlier you start, the better it will be for your child. Studies indicate that approximately 80% of brain development is completed by age three and 90 % by age five. This means a child needn’t wait for primary school for learning to begin.
Benefits of different types of play
As stated earlier, play is among the most important ways in which children begin learning. While there are many characteristics of play, it is sufficient to know that through play children get to practice and develop key physical, emotional, thinking, and social skills, including creativity, imagination, and problem-solving.
Free play in early childhood also lays a solid foundation for formal learning in a regular school environment, enabling children to develop a sense of achievement and increase their feeling of self-worth and confidence. What is important to understand is that parents need not actively teach the lessons their child will learn through play. They just want to be aware of the fact that their child will discover and learn about concepts and skills on her own as she plays.
Psychological research has broadly established that there are five fundamental types of play, commonly referred to as physical play, play with objects, discovery play, creative play and imaginative play. Each type of play supports a range of cognitive and emotional developments, which is why maintaining a good balance of play experiences is considered to be a healthy play diet for children.
Physical play involves movement:
When kids play they are physically exercising their bodies, they get to use the large muscles of the legs, arms and back to move. Physical play is important in order to promote and maintain your child’s health, but also to connect with each aspect of her development and growth.
Physical exercise improves brain activity by getting fresh air into the bloodstream and flowing through the brain cells. Physical movement helps a child learn through her senses about pace; spatial awareness; height; weight and the surrounding environment. A child’s language, communication skills and social skills improve as she starts to use an extended vocabulary, learns to share and take turns and plays together with other children.
Physical play also enables a child to develop stamina, strengthen muscles, maintain balance and increase coordination. Physical play gives the child more confidence, a sense of freedom and adventure and an opportunity to release energy and tension.
Playing with objects:
Also known as parallel play, it involves children playing alongside each other, but not quite together. Playing with objects helps your child develop her fine and gross motor skills when she learns to fit building blocks together and put pieces of puzzles together.
Once a child is able to see the results almost immediately and is praised for her efforts, she will be more inclined to reset her goals and aim for attempting something even more complex. This will further increase her self-confidence and improve her self-image.
Playing with objects encourages your child’s cognitive development as it helps her to think in a clear and logical manner, sort shapes, and sizes and develop spatial awareness. It also creates opportunities for your child to acquire and develop social skills. As your child begins to play with other children her age, she learns what it means to cooperate, take turns and share her playthings.
Learning through discovery:
More learning happens when a child takes part in activities where she gets to convey her own ideas using materials with new textures and shapes — sand, water, stones, and shells. You can use a wider range of materials to promote discovery through play.
You can make it relevant even for babies when they are able to sit but are not yet mobile. Encourage your baby to discover by using her senses. But make sure the materials offered are safe and age-appropriate. Amongst the many benefits of discovery through play, the biggest one is that a child develops creativity, as she has the freedom to explore.
Expressing through creative play:
Creative play enables the child to experiment and express herself by giving your child an opportunity to paint, draw, sketch, dance and sing. Remember, it is the process of doing and creating something that is important, rather than the end result of the activity. This type of play enables the child to practice physical skills and coordination, and develop relationships with others. Creative play also helps the child to develop cognitive and language skills, and to build confidence.
You can promote your child’s cognitive development as she will begin to explore textures by using her sense of touch or sensitize her hearing by asking her to listen to the sound of pouring water. Children will get to practice and develop their language and social skills by communicating with the other children and whilst playing, by taking turns and sharing.
Imaginative play or role-playing is when children think and act out their feelings and emotions, as well as by speaking to toys and by other objects around them. This helps children to develop their language and communication skills and is also connected to every other aspect of child development e.g. physical, intellectual, emotional and social.
There are different kinds of imaginative play. But remember, it needn’t be elaborate or expensive. Depending on the age and development stage of your child, one day she may want to play the role of a doctor. While on another day she’d want to stage a drama cooperatively by involving other children. Or indulge in fantasy play, where she might want to play the role of Wonderwoman, the character from her favourite television show.
Making a range of materials available for play is important, and make sure you don’t offer too many choices at once, as this may overwhelm a child. However, items need to be changed regularly so that imaginative play does not become repetitive.
About My Gym
My Gym involves children in dynamic games, physical activity and movement that help in building neural networks in the brain. Making it easier for children to acquire intellectual skills, navigate complex social situations, and nurture emotional development.
To find out more about how My Gym plays a key role in supporting “whole-child development,” please visit any of our centres. Choose a day when you will be relatively free and come over with your child in tow. Your child could be an infant (as young as 6 months), a toddler or a preschooler, age is not a bar for enrolling.
My Gym has specially designed whole-child development programs that lay a firm foundation for personal, academic and future growth by involving your child in age-appropriate structured and unstructured physical activities and developing thinking and problem-solving skills.
Please note: My Gym classrooms are thoroughly sanitized every day — the tables, the chairs, the children’s activity stations and everything else the child might touch is made safe and clean. Please wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, and practice social distancing.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following are a few benefits of play in the early stages of learning:
- It promotes physical and mental well-being.
- It stimulates a child's sensory skills
- It encourages social interactions.
- It boosts a child's self-esteem.
- It enhances a child's communication skills.
Play refers to all of the intriguing activities that keep children engaged in the development process and allow them to explore, experiment, and discover new lessons. Play-based learning is an essential part of early childhood development as it is one of the most exciting activities that help children meet their developmental milestones. As an important component of early learning, play-based activities assist children in developing fundamental skills such as physical, cognitive, social, and emotional abilities.
Creative play activities stimulate a child's ability to think, create, imagine, communicate, make decisions, solve problems, take chances, develop physical skills, and explore the many opportunities that are presented to them. As a result, they develop self-confidence, sociability, expressiveness, and a sense of balance. Besides boosting a child's academic performance, play-based activities also promote their holistic development.
The importance of free play in early childhood encompasses the following:
- An exciting & effective approach to early learning
- An enriching opportunity of self-exploration & self-expression
- A great way to help children achieve physical developmental milestones
- A tool that ignites creativity & enhances cognitive skills
- A simple way for children to channel their energy & reduce anxiety
The integration of structured and unstructured play helps toddlers develop primary skills such as psychomotor, social, emotional, and creativity in childhood. Play and learning are inextricably tied together by the common objective of meeting developmental milestones. As a result, a play-based learning curriculum promotes the formation of neural networks in the brain and assists children in acquiring language development skills by providing them with a headstart in early learning.