The Importance of Play in Children’s Learning & Development

Key points

  • Learning through play is one of the most important ways children learn and develop.
  • When children play it helps develop literacy and numeracy skills as they need to think, interact, use their natural curiosity and exploration skills.
  • Discovery why learning through play is so important to children… and to the educators and families at Gowrie NSW.

Learning through play is one of the most important ways children learn and develop!

  • Friedrich Froebel was a German educator who created the concept of the ‘kindergarten’. Froebel believed that “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.”
  • Chances are, if you have a child at an Early Education Centre, Preschool or Long Day Care such as Gowrie, you may have been told that they use a ‘play based’ approach for children’s learning and development. But what does this mean exactly?

Here at Gowrie NSW, we recognise the life-long benefits of intentional play-based learning, which is why it is one of our core Program Foundations.

Children learn through Play

Play provides opportunities for discovery, curiosity and exploration. When children play, they explore naturally, ignite their imagination and use their decision-making skills. The type of play children engages in and its purposes change over the course of childhood from infancy to adolescence. The beauty of play is that you don’t have to incentivise it. You don’t need to ‘make’ your children play. Children have a natural urge to play, and playing brings children joy, meaning it can be maintained for periods of time without any external rewards.

How does play support your child’s development and learning?

Physical development – when children use large and small muscles such as climbing, running, ball games, digging, jumping, and dancing it enhances overall health and sense of wellbeing and physical growth.

Social and emotional development – when children use dramatic and imaginative play (including dressing up and role play) they can develop positive social and emotional skills and values. This provides opportunities for children to:

  • practise working with other children, negotiating thoughts and ideas, making choices and decisions develop self-confidence by experiencing success and challenges
  • learn to control their emotions, reduce impulsive behaviour and reduce stress as they act out feelings and events that might be worrying them
  • develop empathy and fairness as they learn to play with other children.

Cognitive development – skills such as thinking, remembering, learning, and paying attention are all being developed when your child is engaging in play. Children develop these cognitive skills through play:

  • problem solving
  • imagination and creativity
  • concepts (shapes, colours, measurement, counting and letter recognition)
    concentration, persistence and resilience.

Literacy and numeracy development – When children play it helps develop literacy and numeracy skills as they need to think, interact, use their natural curiosity and exploration skills. Play helps children develop skills and understandings including:

  • an increased understanding of words and their use
  • listening and speaking skills
  • writing skills through scribbling, painting and drawing
  • learning how stories work (plot, characters, structure, purpose and format of words on a page)
  • learning that objects can stand for something else (a block can be a symbol for a telephone) which is foundation learning for
  • formal reading, spelling and numeracy because letters, words or numerals are part of symbol systems
  • learning that letters, words, symbols, numerals and signs have a purpose and are meaningful to others.

What does an intentional play-based approach to learning look like?

Rather than using structured lessons, educators at Gowrie NSW, and other early childhood education and care services use a wide range of play-based experiences for children’s learning and development. Educators set up games indoors and outdoors that are age appropriate, and can be played safely and enjoyably by every child.

Educators encourage children’s learning through play by:

  • providing resources that stimulate and support play – and reflect children’s ages, interests, knowledge, strengths, abilities, and culture. These resources allow open ended use of items like blocks or cardboards boxes foster creativity and the ability to manipulate concepts mentally as children. For example, turn a box into a car.
  • planning play experiences based on each child’s individual differences, interests, developmental needs and ability. For example, as a child learns to hold a pencil to draw and write, educators will give children different sized objects to grasp, and to build strength in the child’s fingers.
  • observing children as they play so that they can understand how they play with other children, what skills and understanding they demonstrate in play and what activities can strengthen their skills in play.
    joining in children’s play to extend the child’s learning and to model skills such as reasoning, appropriate language, and positive behaviours.
  • providing unhurried and uninterrupted time for play allowing children’s ideas and games to develop.

How can you help your child learn through play?

Children’s success as learners depends on strong foundations developed from birth. Intentional play based learning cultivates critical thinking skills and an understanding that is essential for lifelong learning and wellbeing. You can encourage your child’s learning through by:

  • sharing information about your child’s interests and abilities with their educators so that they can plan play experiences for your child based on their interests and abilities
  • playing with your child
  • discussing your child’s program with the educators at your child’s service, and the activities your child enjoys playing and taking part in
  • advocating for safe and interesting play spaces in your local community.

About Gowrie NSW

Gowrie NSW has a long tradition of providing education and care that considers the whole child in the context of their family and community. Gowrie NSW programs are built on the strong foundations of respectful relationships, intentional play-based teaching, and empowerment! For more than 80 years they have provided high quality play-based education and care for children and their families and are proud to be trusted leaders in early childhood education.

Discover why learning through play is so important to children…and to educators and families at Gowrie NSW

Share this resource

Become a Member

Playgroup NSW leads play-based programs and services for NSW families with children birth to school age, offering development, shared experiences, and family support, that results in active citizens and inclusive communities.