The importance of learning through play

The importance of learning through play

A guest post by Laura Varley


Many people believe children do not learn properly until they go to school and have ‘proper lessons’ sat behind a desk doing work sheets with a teacher dictating the instructions and marking their work. This is something that really frustrates me and many other Early Years Practitioners.

When children are young, their brains are like sponges that absorb information like water. They are almost constantly processing vast amounts of information through their senses; sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. With the guidance of a patient and caring adult, children can be supported through their experiences to help make sense of the world around them.

Think about a young baby exploring Jam, a common sensory activity, often provided by experienced qualified practitioners. They know that exploring Jam engages all of the senses. The baby can see the colour red, they can smell the strawberry scent, they can taste the sweet flavour, they can touch the cold, sticky, wet texture and with the aid of an adult they can hear all the vocabulary that goes along with it.

To consolidate all of this information the brain needs repetition of the activity. When the baby first engages in the activity, links between the senses and the brain are formed, repeating the activity makes these links stronger until the information has been consolidated in the brain. This is why, more often the not, your child has had a change of clothes at nursery because they have enjoyed exploring a variety of sensory experiences time and time again. Early years practitioners are trained in early brain development and are repeating activities to consolidate the information in the children’s brains.

Professionals in early education find a variety of exciting and creative ways to provide the same learning outcome in multiple ways. For example, after the Jam activity, a different sensory product can be introduced such as treacle. The baby is familiar with the sticky sensation, but it’s a different colour to learn, a new smell and taste. The familiar part of the activity is making the links between the senses and the brain stronger than they were before. All of these experiences build up in the brain and eventually strong connections are made and the information is firmly ‘stored’.

The current Early Years curriculum known as the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is the practitioners guide to child development and is broken down into seven learning areas, three prime areas and four specific areas and are then broken down into different aspects.

These are:

Prime areas
Personal social and emotional development
-making relationships
-self confidence and self awareness
-managing feelings and behaviour
Communication and language
-listening and attention
Physical development
-moving and handling
-health and self care

Specific areas
-shape space and measure
Understanding the world
-people and communities
-the world
Expressive arts and design
-exploring media and materials
-being imaginative

The idea behind the EYFS is that children must be confident in the prime areas before they can become competent learners in the specific areas. For example, how can they engage in pretend play with friends if they haven’t built relationships or have confidence? How can they count or say number names if they cannot speak? How can they paint you a beautiful picture if they cannot hold a paintbrush?

This curriculum underpins all of the experiences and activities we provide at nursery. Everything your child benefits their learning, even things like washing their hands. To a young child, they are not just washing their hands, they are learning about hygiene, they are engaging in a sensory experience and they are practicing much needed skills to become independent later in life.
The curriculum provides a very rough guide as to where children should be with regards to their age and stage of development. This must be taken with a very open mind as every child is unique and develops at their own rate therefore they must not be compared.

We plan exciting play based activities to capture your child’s attention. We base them on your child’s interests to get the best out of them and then map them across onto the EYFS to see what developmental stage they’re at. Every activity or experience that your child engages in up until they go to school, scaffolds together to make sense of the world around them and this is why early years learning is equally as important as “proper learning” as it prepares them for the next stage in their lives…


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