I've been inspired by lovely blogs like 'The Imagination Tree' to learn more about how children learn through play. I had to put something together for my coursework about play and thought I'd post it here so I can add to it and adapt it as I go along...

The right to play is a fundamental human right. ‘Play is a freely chosen, personally directed, intrinsically motivated behaviour that actively engages the child’ (Children’s Play Council).  Play underpins all development and learning for young children. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn. Play teaches them to explore, investigate, develop all important new skills and master and improve existing skills. They develop intellectually, creatively, physically, socially and emotionally. Through play children learn how to problem solve, negotiate, take risks and overcome obstacles. It is through play that children develop friendships and a sense of belonging to a peer group.
The qualities of spontaneity, wonder, imagination, and trust, are best developed in early childhood play. If we allow adequate time for these early skills to become firmly established, the child will be better prepared to acquire the later more sophisticated skills.
Here are some examples of how children learn through play:
·    Gross motor skills are developed by running, hopping, throwing, moving to music, and balancing.
·    Fine motor skills by drawing, cutting, pouring sand.
·    Cognitive skills by matching and sorting toys by colour, from water to land animals, by listening and following directions.
·     Social skills through interactions with other children through play and listening to stories and acting out stories.
·     Language development through interactions, listening to and singing songs.

By observing children at play we gain understanding of who they are and what they can do. We learn a lot about their personalities, feelings and temperaments. We can find out what the children have already learnt and what they are learning. We can discover: their interests and preferences; how we can support their interests in the setting and how we can extend their interests (and also what changes in their environment could best assist their development); their developmental levels (cognitive and social); how they relate to other children and adults; what strategies children use to attain their goals; which skills the children need to practice; whether the activities planned are at the right level and we can learn how the setting has contributed to the play experience. We learn what experiences they bring to the play, for example, we may learn about a child’s home culture.

      Childcare practitioners observe and interpret children’s behaviours in order to understand them, and in doing so, help them to understand themselves and the world around them. However, children's play is complex, and we need to be cautious about assuming that, because we have observed what the children are doing or saying, we have accessed their ideas and thoughts. We need to be careful that we see what actually happens and not what we expect or want to see.

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