Counting to ten, knowing the colours, identifying shapes - even from a matter of months old, we are obsessed with our children hitting those little educational milestones that reassure us they're not being left behind. But is our preoccupation with the 'three R's' squeezing the play out of our children's lives? Frances Scanlon, pre-KG teacher at North London Collegiate School, says that the importance of play cannot be overestimated for young children. "The term 'play' is often thrown about in reference to a child's development without explanation of why it is so crucial," she says. "Many Early Years experts believe development, learning and play work hand in hand together, and cannot be separated."
Play allows students the opportunity to explore, test and build knowledge at their own pace, using problem-solving skills and cause and effect, explains Scanlon. Research has shown the ongoing benefits of play include better memory skills, greater self-confidence and pride in achievements, improved language development and self-regulation of behaviour, all of which actually end up leading to enhanced school adjustment and academic learning.
"The ongoing benefits of play include enhanced memory skills, greater self-confidence and self-regulation, which lead to enhanced academic learning"
"Play allows children to communicate and negotiate with each other, learning empathy, conflict resolution, resilience and social skills through self-discovery rather than having an adult solve it for them," says Scanlon. "Although at times a child's play may not convey meaning to an outside observer, for the child they are creating new meaning or exploring concepts unfamiliar to them.
"As our society continues to develop and change, we are preparing children for lives and jobs that are currently unknown to us, in a world that is moving closer to an automated workplace. Recently, the World Economic Forum stated that skills that are fostered through play - such as emotional intelligence, creativity and problem solving - will be in high demand in the future, leading to the question: 'How do you help your children get a great job?' And the answer: 'Let them play more!'"
The serious side of play
Dress up: a child who is wearing a cape and pretending to be a superhero is demonstrating leadership and negotiation qualities (that cape was likely in high demand!).
Fort building: A child who builds a cubby house in the book corner is using design skills and creativity,
Moulding clay: A child creating an ice-cream with Play Doh is showing imagination, structural design and communication skills, while also strengthening the finger muscles that will eventually help them hold a pen.
Imaginative play: A child who is 'playing house' is learning to organise, negotiate and listen to others.
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