The Power of Play in parenting and early childhood development

Nikki Bush Cotlands Play The ConferenceThis week, on 13 July, I am delivering a paper at Play: The Conference which is organised by Cotlands and sponsored by UNICEF, the Lego Foundation and the Department of Basic Education. The title of my presentation is the The Power of Play in Parenting and Early Childhood Development.

Developing the curious learner who is school ready

I am a firm believer in the fact that if we are to change the matric results in South Africa we need to change the quality of learner entering the system. The means we need to put the power of play to work both at home and in the early learning environment.

We need curious learners who are school ready, entering the system with wide and deep foundations. This means they need well-developed perceptual skills before starting in Grade R. Unfortunately, most South African children do not have the luxury of a preschool education and so Grade R is, for many, a year of catching up many years of school readiness.

You see, school readiness is a journey that takes 7 years. It cannot be done in 1 bridging year at the age of 6. It consists of layers and layers of learning acquired through playful experiences and interaction with life, people and a variety of learning resources from household objects to nature, to toys and games.

What parents don’t know

Here are a few things many parents do not know or understand about the power of play:

  • Play is the language of childhood (different to speaking)
  • Play is about incidental learning
  • Play is about learning through self-discovery
  • Play involves movement and doing things, it is an active process versus young children being sedentary in front of a screen-based activity
  • Play ignites curiosity
  • Play is a safe space for children to grow and experiment
  • Play provides age-appropriate stimulation

Real learning with real stuff

Children need to physically engage with their environment in a real way, in order to create meaningful learning experiences. This is where real toys and educational games come into their own. Children can see, touch and feel them and make them do things. Toys and games are instruments of discovery as are household objects and nature. Children acquire over 30 different perceptual skills for school readiness when they engage with good educational toys. This is called concrete learning.

Children learn in three phases:

  • Concrete learning is when children engage with real objects eg. an apple
  • Semi-concrete learning refers to the picture of that object in a book or on a task card, eg. the picture of an apple
  • Abstract learning refers to a symbol such as a dot, letter or number that relates to the real thing, eg. the letter ‘a’, the word ‘apple’ or the number 1 for one apple.

Children who have developed perceptual skills through play have stronger memories about what they have learnt because they have had a multi-sensory experience. The more senses used in a learning experience, the stronger the memory.

Play is a window of observation

cleanerWhen a child is playing, parents and teachers can observe:

  • Whether they are on track developmentally
  • What their talents and strengths are
  • What their interests are
  • What their personality is like

This is very useful information moving forward to help children reach their potential.

Play is a bridge-building exercise

Play builds bridges emotionally between parent and child. It is not only about learning about stuff but learning about people too. Play builds trust and a sense of security for a child.

Play in a classroom situation builds the relationship between the teacher and child.

Play builds the bridge between the informal learning of preschool and the formal learning of primary school, making the transition so much easier.

Play enables a child to make their thinking visible to the world. They can see their thoughts in action.

The benefits of play

  • Children begin to understand their physical world
  • They become aware of their bodies and how to co-ordinate their movements to make things happen
  • They learn to communicate with others
  • The learn how to solve problems
  • Play enriches their creativity
  • It develops their leadership skills
  • Play develops a child’s potential in the early years

The power of play should never be underestimated in the early learning journey. It provides the foundations for curious learners who are ready to take on the rigours of formal education.

Read my book Future-proof Your Child for more information.

Book me to speak at your next event. I have a number of talks on offer.

NIkki Bush 702

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