How to Support Play in a Children’s Learning Environment

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From the moment children are born, they’re learning about the world around them.

And play offers the perfect opportunity to build their knowledge and imagination.

While you’re working with children, it’s important they’re given the space they need to play independently and with their peers, in various different scenarios.

With screen time on the up among the under 5’s, it’s more important than ever to engage children in different activities that stimulate them and enhance their thirst for learning.

How important is play for children?

In 2017, The LEGO Foundation unveiled a whitepaper that outlined just how important play is in young children’s learning. They found that play helps children to understand the world around them, building their physical, social, cognitive, and creative skills along the way.

Children engaged in role play build their communication abilities, while those playing shop enhance their maths skills in the process.

The whitepaper notes that ‘play has a key role in healthy, positive development’ and it needs to be supported by the environment in order to be productive for the child.

How can you support play and learning activities?

Play comes naturally to children, and forms a key part of their early childhood education. Children learn and develop through physical play, pretend play, outdoor play, and interactions with other children.

You can support children’s play by allowing them to take the lead, and providing them with the space and resources to let their imaginations run wild. While younger children may need a little more encouragement from you, toddlers can find their own way, usually copying the adult behaviour around them, such as driving a car or putting the baby to bed.

By building an environment that allows them to explore safely, and extend learning to encompass different play ideas, children will have the best chance of getting the most out of their play.

What role should I take in children’s play to best support learning?

While the children play, you should try not to intervene too much, and direct what they’re doing. In order for children to develop, they should be allowed to have the space and time to make their own decisions and take risks with clear supervision from you.

You can take a back seat while talking to the child throughout, inviting them to solve problems or engage in different activities while playing in a particular way.

For instance, a child could be pretending to cook in the kitchen, making food for their fellow classmates. You could sit alongside them, and ask, ‘what are you cooking for everyone?’ to encourage them to think through what they’re doing, and ‘what will you do with it when you’ve cooked it?’

Engaging the children in this way and getting involved in what they’re doing supports their development and helps them to think critically about their interests, relationships, and more.

How do you support child development?

Most children will automatically play with little encouragement, but others may need more support from childcare workers. To encourage children to learn new skills, and enhance their development, offer different activities for children to get involved in. You could offer:

  • Sand and water stations
  • Creative activity space for painting and drawing
  • Kitchen playsets
  • Building blocks
  • Music activities
  • Games to get involved in
  • Quiet spaces for relaxation

“Knowing how to engage with children, and when to intervene in their play, is a key part of a playworker’s role,” says Rachel Cox, Head of Childcare at TSW Training. “Following the eight playwork principles is vital when working with children, and giving them the space and time they need to understand the world around them.”

Train your team with TSW

Fully-funded by the Welsh Government, our childcare apprenticeships help your team gain a firm understanding of child development, and how play can support this.

CCPLD and Playwork qualifications can enhance their professional development and meet your staff at their ability level.

See the childcare programmes we offer, and what your team could be learning about here.

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Richard Hywood
Richard is TSW Training Apprenticeships’ Employer and Community Engagement Manager. His articles will help your business prepare for and manage apprentices.
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