Everything a baby and young child sees, hears, touches, tastes and smells influences the developing network of connections between brain cells (synapses) and your child’s learning power. Between 3-6 years the brain is growing at the fastest pace (processing, memory and problem solving) – and is 90% of its adult size by age 6!
Neuroscientific research highlights the importance of experience through exploration and making connections between areas of learning. Play is vital to this process and for a child’s growth and development – they learn, discover and make sense of their environment through play, developing learning power, gross and fine motor skills and social skills when they play with others.
Contrary to the rather belittling saying ‘it’s child play’, play is actually essential learning for a child and in fact Montessori said ‘Play is the work of a child’! So what can we do to encourage, extend and develop our child’s development through play? Using the word ‘discover’ let’s explore some important aspects of play.
D – discuss. Talk and read as much as you can. Spark their imaginations, develop and change the stories and play with words.
I – interests. Follow their interests in play. Develop their ideas – children have a natural curiosity and are interested by many things, they will learn an incredible amount at a young age about things that capture their interest.
S – social interaction. Family fun and playing with other children. As babies, interaction with parents extends and challenges them and playing with other children helps them to relate to others, negotiate rules, adapt games and appreciate fairness.
C – challenge. One way we can develop play and thinking skills is to ask lots of questions. For example ‘What would happen if…?’ ‘Shall we try something different?’ Allow them to develop ideas, however messy it might be!
O – outside . Enjoy the natural world! Children are fascinated by nature, flowers, birds and animals. Research has also shown that free play outside is vital – the best recipe is curiosity and room to explore.
V – virtual play. Screen time, toys and games. In our high tech world, it is very easy for children to have too much screen time. However, we need to aim to create a balance – research has shown babies and children need face-to-face interaction to learn.
E – exciting experiences. These do not need to be expensive, there are so many objects around the house that can be played with: empty plastic containers, wooden blocks and junk materials for modelling! Widening their experiences will enable them to take their next steps.
R – role play. Vital learning and literacy skills develop through role play – children love dressing up, re-enacting or changing stories, making up new versions of stories and role play. It develops meta-cognition, problem-solving and social understanding. That’s why children spend hours playing with Duplo and small world toys to create their own situations.