Learning Through Play: The Secret of Healthy Child Development

child playing outdoors

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of play in early childhood development. Play is now understood to be one of the most important ways that children learn and develop. In fact, many experts believe that children's play is essential for healthy emotional development.

Thus, when compared to the past, when learning mainly comprised formal education and assignments, and play was considered frivolous, this is an unprecedented change. So is it really true that children can learn through playing? And is play really that important?

What is Learning Through Play? And Why Does Learning Through Play Matter?

Previously, the overemphasis of learning through textbooks and assignments were likely to cause many children to negatively associated learning with stress and burnout. This is corroborated by an OECD study, where Singapore students were found to have higher levels of anxiety and stress, likely due to the heavy emphasis on studying as part of Singapore's educational scene.

However, experts correlate these rising stress levels with a decline in mental health among students, which is detrimental to early childhood development. It is therefore a change for the better that learning is turning away from strictly studying and stress, and more towards carefree play.

Below, we explore the connection between play and learning.

What are the 5 Benefits of Learning Through Play?

1. Play Allows Children To Explore And Experiment

One reason why play is so important is that it allows children to explore and experiment with their world. When kids play, they can try out new ideas and abilities, learn about themselves and others, and practice skills they will need later in life.

2. Play Helps Children Develop Social and Emotional Skills

Play based learning helps contribute to the early learning and development of emotional and social skills such as cooperation, empathy, and self-control. These are important life skills that children learn through play.

Playing with other children allows your child to interact and communicate with others, which helps them learn how to work together effectively, as well as express their pleasure or disappointment appropriately. In the process of having fun, children develop social skills that are essential in every stage of life! These communication skills will come well in handy later in life.

3. Play Enhances Children's Physical Skills

In addition to social and emotional skills, play also helps with physical development. Gross motor skills are those that involve large muscle groups, such as walking, running, and climbing. Fine motor skills are those that involve smaller muscles, such as using our fingers and hands. As children play games, they refine, practice, and improve these skills.

4. Play Reduces Stress

Playing with your child, or having your child play with other kids, is a wonderful way to relieve tension and anxiety, as well as providing a secure location for them to be themselves and pursue their interests freely.

Ultimately, children love to play because it allows them to explore, experiment, and have fun. And when children are enjoying themselves, it will show in their demeanour. When children are happy and stress-free, their overall well-being improves, and they can perform better in all aspects of life.

5. Play Encourages Curiosity and Critical Thinking

In addition to the benefits listed above, play also encourages intellectual and cognitive development. The play learning process encourages children to solve puzzles and think creatively outside of the box, helping them develop problem solving skills. For example, playing make believe encourages them to look beyond themselves and their immediate environment.

When children are allowed to explore and question the world around them through play, they are more likely to develop into curious and critical thinkers. So, the next time you see your child playing, remember that they are actually training their brain development and cognitive skills.

Parenting Tips: How To Encourage Learning Through Play

Parents can encourage children to learn through unstructured play based learning by providing plenty of opportunities for exploration and experimentation, as well as by openly encouraging their children to play.

It is important to let them explore and follow their interests, without too much direction from adults. More importantly, it's also crucial to provide a safe environment where young children learn and play freely without the fear of getting hurt.

Some parents believe that providing their child with a tablet and allowing them to view educational programmes or play video games is enough "play". However, this is hardly sufficient.

To get the most out of play, you must broaden the kinds of games and activities your child has access to, as well as ensure they interact with others and the physical world. This is especially key, as by the age of 35, 90% of your child's development of the brain is complete.

As such, it is essential to develop play — proper play — from an early age. Too much screen time can lead to negative effects like increased risk of myopia and shorter attention spans. Furthermore, excessive screen time may inhibit a child’s ability to observe and experience the typical everyday activities.

Thus, parents can help by setting up play based learning environments, which can help in encouraging children to engage in playful learning.

Examples of Learning Through Play

For Babies (Up to 2 years old)

Give them blocks and puzzles designed for young children; children at this age love bright coloured objects. You can also introduce them to common household objects as long as they are not sharp and are safe for young kids. These will help children learn to improve their motor skills.

For Toddlers (2 to 4 years old)

Introduce them to sensory play. You may buy toys designed for sensory play in toy stores or make your own. Fill a tub with water and place a few containers in the tub - containers can be of different shapes - and let them while the afternoon away. Or introduce them to play dough and learn how to get creative and build objects. Outdoor play will be especially enjoyable for youngsters; their natural curiosity

For Pre-schoolers (4 to 7 years old)

This is the age where they start to explore independence, develop preferences, and voice out their opinions. Provide toys that give them the space to practice decision making; the resulting creativity can be stimulating. For example, building blocks, legos and puzzles are great solo activities that help them develop problem solving skills. That said, it's still important for them to interact and to collaborate with others.

For School-aged children (7 years and above)

School-aged children could be very busy with school work and school curriculum, as many parents start to introduce tuition classes to help their child do better in class. Nevertheless, it's still vital to ensure your child gets enough play during this period to fight stress. Encourage them to explore their interests outside of school curriculum in a fun, relaxed way.

Ultimately, children love to play because it allows them to explore, experiment, and have fun. And when children are enjoying themselves, it will show in their demeanour. When children are happy and stress-free, their overall well-being improves, and they can perform better in all aspects of life.

So, the next time you see your child playing, don't just see it as "wasting time"; instead, observe and see the different ways learning is taking place. After all, play is the secret of healthy child development!