Miss Katie Paynter, Head of Pre-Prep at St Nicholas Preparatory School talks about the importance of play for young children
Nothing is as natural as a child at play. It is a cherished part of childhood. It is important to recognise that it is difficult to give a single definition of play. It can be defined as ‘what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests, in their own way, and for their own reasons.’ Play has also frequently been described as ‘what children and young people do when they are not being told what to do by adults’. Regardless of definition, the importance of play cannot be underestimated. It is undeniably instrumental in children’s learning and development and is particularly integral in a child’s early years, given it indubitably supports their foundational social, emotional and cognitive growth.
Anyone spending any time with young children will understand that providing them with opportunities for play provides so much more than a few minutes or hours of ‘fun’. Many instrumental skills are developed. It develops communication and language skills and vocabulary, an understanding of emotion and empathy, social skills and creativity. It also supports and strengthens cooperation, collaboration, sharing and problem solving. Children will observe those around them and mimic language and behaviour. It teaches self-expression, nurtures a sense of imagination and simultaneously gives children a feeling of adventure.
Dramatic play is absolutely essential to a child’s social and emotional development and can enhance their physical development too. It is also very closely connected to intellectual development. This is when children make sense of the world in which they live by acting out situations before they experience them and by mimicking what they witness around them. Most children are innately imaginative and will happily chat away to someone on their toy telephone or pretend to travel to hospital in an ambulance made from a cardboard box! This creativity must be actively fostered!
Encouraging young children to embrace physically active play is extremely beneficial and necessary for their development. It helps them to learn about the everchanging environment and gives them the opportunity to use their whole body and develop their gross motor skills. It can meet their multi-sensory needs and will promote significant health and well-being benefits. Whether it is messy play, creative or role play, it is an essential part of learning.
Play provides a platform through which children are not only able to learn about the world around them through interacting with it, but it also gives them the opportunity to learn about themselves. As play is fun, children’s focus tends to be over a sustained period. In turn, this helps children to develop the ability to concentrate. It is important as parents not to push your child too hard. Children develop in their own ways and in their own time, and rest assured their levels of focus will steadily augment.
It is imperative that children are given the time ‘to be children’ and being able to play is essential, if physical, social, emotional and cognitive skills are to be securely embedded.
Head of Pre-Prep
St Nicholas Preparatory School