Learning Through Play

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By: Angy Talbot (ECFE Blog Writer)

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” ~Fred Rogers

Play is how children begin to comprehend and grasp all the many concepts of their surroundings. Play is the groundwork for knowledge for young children. Children need opportunities to play in an atmosphere that promotes learning in all the areas of child development (Social Emotional, Fine Motor, Gross Motor, Cognitive, Language, Literacy, and Math). Today children do not have as many play opportunities with the increased demands of academic success, structured activities and technology devices from computers, phones and television. Many toys sold are battery operated and don’t allow for the building of imagination or make believe play. Early childhood classrooms give children a unique educational play setting that fosters imagination and dramatic play. The early childhood classroom allows for social development for children to learn to play with other children of the same age with trained and responsive teachers that guide and coach children to play successfully with one another.
Our ECFE and Discovery Learning Preschool programs are prepared and enriched learning environments that allow for children to have opportunities to explore many different learning areas from blocks, dramatic play, art, sand, water, music, writing, literacy, math, sensory, science, puzzles, games, and outdoor play. Play is an effective and enjoyable way for children to develop many learning skills. “Play is an important vehicle for developing self regulation as well as for promoting language, cognition, and social competence. Children of all ages love to play, and it gives them opportunities to develop physical competence and enjoyment of the outdoors, understand and make sense of their world, interact with others, express and control emotions, develop their symbolic and problem solving abilities, and practice emerging skills. Research shows the links between play and foundational capacities such as memory, self regulation, oral language abilities, social skills, and success in school” (NAEYC position statement on play). Play is the basis of initial learning, which helps children to develop understanding of fundamental concepts and inquiry skills.
In addition to being linked to self-regulation skills, studies have found that purposeful and productive play is positively related to:
• Memory development (Levy, Wolfgang & Koorland, 1992)

• Symbolic thinking (Davidson, 1998; Kim, 1999)

• Positive approaches to learning (Levy, Wolfgang & Koorland, 1992)

• Positive social skills (Corsaro, 1988; Levy, Wolfgang & Koorland, 1992)

• Language and literacy skills (Berk, 2009; Kim, 1999; Levy, Wolfgang & Koorland, 1992)

• Math skills (Berk, 2009; Kim, 1999; Levy, Wolfgang & Koorland, 1992)
(Research Foundation – Creative Curriculum)
Concepts are developed through activities that occur naturally during play, such as counting, sorting, sequencing, predicting, hypothesizing, and evaluating. They are engaged in things they’re interested in—so they have a natural motivation to learn (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). As a preschool teacher, I have seen first hand the differences in children who have opportunities to play. Children through play are learning academic concepts from the alphabet to math skills in a manner that is fun, enjoyable, and retainable. Many children come to school for the first time not having the ability to engage and cooperate with their peers. Play has given them the opportunities to learn to interact, share, take turns, and bond with their peers and to form relationships with adults other than their parents. Not only is play fun in preschool, it gives children the prospect to relate with others and learn many different concepts with hands-on materials by using their imagination and making abstract concepts become concrete.
“ Play is the highest form of research.” ~Albert Einstein

For more information on the benefits of play check out these informational articles:

It’s The Way Young Children Learn
http://www.childaction.org/families/publications/docs/guidance/PlayItstheWayYoungChildrenLearn_Eng.pdf

10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play
https://families.naeyc.org/learning-and-development/child-development/10-things-every-parent-should-know-about-play