Learning Through Play

At 360 Play, one of our core values is all about making learning fun and accessible through play. It may seem like a slightly far-fetched idea to some, but in recent years especially, many studies have proven how effective simply playing with your child (at any age) can be as a learning tool.

From the moment your baby is born he/she is searching for answers about the world around them. From the sound of your voice to the simple scent of you, your child picks up on these small clues to make sense of the world. When interacting with and communicating with your baby, they learn about reading facial expressions to understand meaning, tone of voice to indicate playtime or quiet time and the feel of your skin for comfort and reassurance.

Early Years Matters (earlyyearsmatters.co.uk) states:

Babies and young children are learning all the time. They learn through looking, listening, touching, tasting, investigating, exploring, experimenting and through playing and talking. This means that young children need to have opportunities to

  • look at interesting things such as birds, animals, plants, trees, mobiles, shells, stones, boxes, tubes, mirrors
  • listen to a range of sounds such as songs, rhymes, jingles, stories, music
  • touch a variety of objects – hard, soft, bumpy, smooth, rough, cold, warm
  • taste a range of flavours such as those in fruit, milk, vegetables, bread
  • investigate things that open, close, float, sink, twist, turn
  • explore objects such as large boxes, things that make noises, things that move
  • experiment with water, sand, clay, dough, paint, glue, felt pens
  • play for uninterrupted periods of time, alone or alongside others, with help from adults, and in their own way
  • talk to other children and adults and to have their efforts rewarded

In general, by toddler age (3-5yrs) playing has become second nature and imitating real life through role play is a fun and interesting development. Children don’t always need to have the same ‘tools’ that adults use in order to understand their purpose. For example, a rectangular block can act as a ‘phone’ when put to the ear, or a cuddly toy could be used as a cushion – the possibilities are endless when imaginations are fresh and growing all the time.

Rolling over to get to a wanted toy or reaching out to grasp an object just out of reach are both physical activities which help your child to understand how their bodies work, how the space around them can be used to their benefit and how to think about solving problems. Physical activity is just as important as traditional learning methods such as reading, counting and spelling as it teaches your child about themselves and the elements around them. By running a race together, you can give real examples of how forces work with and against the body, how biologically, we need to breathe in the air and drink water to fuel ourselves and experiencing the thrill of achieving a goal – “I’m going to win”!

Bounty.com has this to say:

Different kinds of play will fire up different connections and promote different skills. Shaking a rattle will promote hand-eye co-ordination, ‘fine motor skills’ (small movements), and the understanding of cause and effect. Reading a board book will help with cognitive development, language, fine motor skills (from turning the pages), visual perception and attention span.

It’s by giving them a good mix of play that we will give them the best chance of developing a healthy mind.

Setting up a learning-focused play time for your children needn’t be time consuming or costly – basic, everyday items can be used as ‘props’ and toys and it all really comes down to the example you set. Parent involvement in play can be crucial to enhancing self esteem and your child will pick up on your reactions and responses to help them make their own judgements about activities they choose to engage in. You can also establish boundaries of safety and time when needed.

The main focus areas of learning through play can be concentrated into four categories –

Physical activity

Emotional development

Social play

Imaginative play

Try to come up with one or two activities a week from each category and make time to play with your child, exploring all of the different ideas that come up. Remember when your child is playing, it is their world you are entering so don’t be afraid to let them make the decisions and guide where the play goes next.

Some useful things to keep handy:

‘Treasure Baskets’ – baskets or boxes full of everyday items that can be used for heuristic play. Each basket should be a unique collection of objects – e.g. soft brushes, material and cloths in one, cardboard tubes and boxes in another, metal spoons/pan lids/bells…. the list is endless and it is super easy to create a basket as most things are already lying around the house!

Sensory/Messy Play items – this can be as easy or as detailed as you want! Simply cooking spaghetti with some natural food colouring can provide hours of fun or putting some brightly coloured paint inside a clear, plastic zippy bag to squelch and swirl about. Other messy play activities can be found on http://www.learning4kids.net/list-of-sensory-play-ideas/.

Outdoor games – from a football to giant chess pieces to a bat and ball to a hula hoop – so much fun can be had by getting outside and getting active! It can be even more fun when new toys and objects are introduced but if this isn’t an option for you, don’t forget that hide and seek, grandmother’s footsteps and hopscotch are just as fun and don’t require anything other than yourselves!