The importance of play for young children

Matt Lloyd-Rose

Matt Lloyd-Rose, Head of Education

07 October 2019

The right to play

Over 2000 years ago, Plato had the revolutionary idea that children learn best through play.

Now, play is seen as so fundamental to children’s wellbeing and development that the UN recognises the right to play alongside the right to an education and the right to be safe from violence.

When they are playing freely, children engage in whatever activity they want for as long as they want. Evidence shows that this speeds up learning and prepares children for school better than anything else.

It’s not just for fun

Children playing are like scientists, experimenting and discovering new things about how the world works.

During play, children deepen their understanding of the familiar and develop the confidence to have a go at new things.

Picture a child focused on stacking bricks. It might look like she is simply delighted by the inevitable crash. Actually she is learning about shape, balance, gravity, size, perseverance, patience, coordination and more.

As children grow, their play changes too. They move from playing independently to becoming interested in other children’s play. Eventually, they start mimicking and playing alongside them. Then finally they learn to play cooperatively with others.

This journey through play helps children to become social and to develop key skills in turn-taking, communication and awareness of others.

Developing healthy habits

Much play is active. Take a toddler to a park and he will immediately start jumping in muddy puddles, clambering over logs, swinging sticks or racing along the paths.

Unstructured active play is the main way to promote physical activity for young children. Active play keeps children healthy. It develops movement and coordination, which lay firm foundations to build future skills like writing.

Almost 10% of children are obese when they start reception. It’s more difficult for children to become healthy adults, if they do not create good habits early in life. Play is the best and most fun way to promote an active lifestyle.

For this reason, every tiney home offers daily active play by spending time either in their own outside space or a nearby park.

There’s method to the madness

If children are this good at leading their own play, should we just put our feet up and leave them to it?

Absolutely not!

Child-led play is most valuable when a skilled adult provides a wonderful play space and and a great range of toys and resources to meet each child’s needs.

tiney home leaders do this and support children’s play by interacting with them, helping them to develop their ideas without taking over and telling them what to do.
As well as offering lots of high quality free play, there are other times in the day when a tiney home leader sets up adult-led activities to help children to develop specific skills. A great home leader strikes a balance between following the child’s lead and guiding play themselves.

A tiney launchpad

It takes expert knowledge to respond to each child’s emerging needs through play. That’s why we prioritise the continued development of our home leaders to make sure they lead play with skill and confidence.

Our ongoing training, the ‘Learning Zone’ on the tiney app, and community activities like the tiney book club (in partnership with Walker Books and the National Literacy Trust) support tiney home leaders to provide the right steps for each child to learn through play.

A tiney home leader must sensitively follow children’s ideas during play, then choose the right moment to join in with a game, introducing new concepts and deepening learning without causing disruption. Launchpad helps tiney leaders skilfully manage play and understand when the right moment is to increase its complexity.

Leaders watch the particular interests each child expresses through play and plan opportunities to develop these. Play makes new experiences fun. And tiney home leaders are always finding exciting ways to broaden each child’s experiences. This is important as we know that the more knowledge a child has about their world, the quicker they learn new things.

Once you start looking closely at the skills that are being developed through play, it becomes obvious that for young children play and learning are indistinguishable. Quite simply, play is learning. And that’s why it sits at the heart of everything we do at tiney.

Matt Lloyd-Rose profile img

Matt Lloyd-Rose

Head of Education

After teaching adorable Year 3s at St Jude’s in Brixton, Matt helped design the Teach First Primary and Early Years training programme and led the charity’s educational research. He has written two books: The Character Conundrum, a guide to developing children’s confidence, independence and resilience and Curiocity, a guide to London. Matt ensures a great educational experience for the children we work with and creates world-class training for our community members.

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