The jury is in – play-based education, particularly in early childhood, is vital for learning and healthy development, according to Child Psychiatrist Dr Kaylene Henderson.
While there’s been an abundance of research about the importance of play in children’s lives, there’s sometimes the misconception play is frivolous and not a vehicle for learning, says Dr Henderson, who works closely with Community Kids Childcare & Early Learning Centres educators on their professional development.
“In fact, play is now considered to be so essential for children’s development that it’s been recognised by the UN High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child,” says Dr Henderson.
“Just as we commit to providing our kids with sufficient amounts of healthy food, knowing how good this for them, it’s important to consider play in the same way. Children need sufficient time and opportunities for play for their healthy development.”
Dr Henderson acknowledges this isn't always possible or easy for parents to provide, particularly as children approach school age.
“While the important benefits of play are well known, lots of parents struggle to provide their children with enough opportunities for play,” Dr Henderson says.
“For some, this is a result of being too time-poor and over-scheduled. For others, play simply doesn’t come naturally – it’s either too difficult or perhaps too boring.”
This is where high-quality early learning environments can be of assistance, providing children with opportunities to engage in a wider variety of play-based learning experiences and with a broader range of toys and resources than some parents can provide at home. Some childcare and early learning centres such as Community Kids have a strong focus on allowing children to learn through play.
“Learning through ideas, interests, strengths and abilities while children play is an essential part of our philosophy and curriculum at Community Kids,” says Community Kids spokeswoman Freya Lucas.
“Play is the natural way for children to learn and express themselves, and we devote lots of time to free play, as well as structured play, in a social setting which also teaches children about relationships.”
Dr Henderson outlines the key benefits that young children experience from play:
1. Connection and communication
Play provides a wonderful opportunity for children and parents to connect with and enjoy one another. Play also provides a helpful way for children to communicate their ideas and worries to their parents. Often young children will lack the language skills to fully describe these thoughts to their parents, yet the themes will be prominent in their play.
2. Competence – problem solving and mastery
In play, young children can practise tasks or act out situations they wish to master.
3. Brain development: learning, language and motor development
The different types of play that children naturally engage in complement each other perfectly to provide them with a rich mix of cognitive, motor and language development opportunities.
4. Social skills
When playing with others at playgroups or childcare, children practise lots of important social skills, such as sharing, turn taking, leadership and group skills.
5. Relaxation and fun
Perhaps above all, play is relaxing, restorative and fun! It is truly one of the joys of childhood.
About Community Kids Childcare & Early Learning Centres
Community Kids Childcare & Early Education Centres offer high quality, affordable long day care, before and after school care and vacation care. The centres provide children a safe, happy and healthy environment, which recognises the special needs and talents of individual children through the employment of caring, qualified educators and to ensure that all aspects of each child’s developmental needs form the basis of our programs. Community Kids is located in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. www.communitykids.com.au
About Dr Kaylene Henderson
Dr Kaylene Henderson (MBBS FRANZCP Cert C&A Psych), Child Psychiatrist, is a medically trained child health and parenting specialist with membership in the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health and Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (Qld). She is passionate about sharing practical, research based advice to help parents feel more calm and confident while raising kind, resilient and socially and emotionally healthy children. www.drkaylenehenderson.com