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Learning through play

Learning Through Play

Learning through play is central to our approach to Early Years Learning and Development. Sometimes, I feel that the word 'play' does not do justice to what is actually taking place when a child plays.

Learning through play is central to our approach to Early Years Learning and Development. Sometimes, I feel that the word 'play' does not do justice to what is actually taking place when a child plays. There are so many other words I think of when I see children playing:

Exploring, trying, building, 'having a go', inquiring, co-operating, immersing, finding out, practising, experimenting, making decisions, imagining, thinking...the list goes on...

For the child, play is:

  • purposeful
  • engaging
  • and fun

Play provides a wonderful vehicle for children to follow their own lines of inquiry and exploration, as well as a safe way to find things out and make mistakes.

So, never underestimate when your child is engaged in' just' play. They are developing thinking skills, linguistic skills, social skills, emotional skills, mathematical concepts, and physical skills.

Stress Buster - Play also helps to reduce stress and it provides a sense of ownership for the child. During my time as an educational consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital, play was vital in supporting children through very difficult times. It provided a way for children to create and express themselves, it brought normality to their lives and it took them 'out' of the difficulties they were currently experiencing.

So how can you support your child's play at home - especially if you are working from home?

Tina Bruce, Professor of Early Childhood Education at Roehampton, talks about Core Experiences - experiences which we know help children develop a range of core skills. Playing with resources such as; mark-making - pencils, crayons, paper, paint, glue, tape, junk boxes, construction toys,  Lego, Meccano, building blocks, puzzles, jigsaws, books, small world toys, cars, animals, dolls, music and movement, outdoor play, malleable materials -playdough, and role-play/dressing up, just to mention a few, provides children with these core experiences.

When my boys were younger, it always helped me to categorise or sort the resources I had available in my home and then I could consider how they were presented to my child, in the hope that they were curious and wished to explore them.

When considering core experiences, I would organise the resources I had in my home so they were accessible to my child (not necessarily all at once) and often I would model how I might play with or explore a resource, this helped my child to have an initial starting point for their play.

Sometimes, I would stagger what I made available throughout the day – this would help to organise and split up our day, but also allowed time for me to do my work and also time for my child to freely explore and play on their own.

Children love play partners and they love to share their discoveries, so it is also good to have something to hand to capture what they are doing so that you can look back on it and share it again together - handy just in case you are busy and unable to attend to your child right at their chosen moment. Having a favourite teddy or toy can also make a good listening play partner...especially if your child likes to pretend to be the teacher.

A learning log, such as Tapestry or a simple paper scrapbook is a great way for a child to record their play and learning. They can include, photographs, drawings, cut-outs, items that are special to them or a topic that they are particularly interested in. It is a great way to gather and document their learning and then it can be shared at a convenient time with parents and carers and together plans can be made for the following day of what might go into the journal next.

All of the above can sound very simple, but in reality, for us at the moment - keeping our children learning, entertained, social and healthy is far from simple and that is why it is so important that we remain connected as a community so that we can organise play dates, share top tips and help to guide each other through this difficult time.

The learning activities that we are sharing on Firefly and Tapestry, offer ideas to support your child's learning and development, within a holistic approach - developing the whole child. Please remember young children are rich and resourceful – they will keep learning, they will keep developing, they are naturally curious and they love to play. So, let’s make the most of play, it is the secret to meaningful, engaging and fun learning.


Ruth Hanson
Head of Campus Tai Tam