The Eureka Family Column: Play is the true key to learning

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As the proud mum of four children, there’s nothing I enjoy more than spending the better part of my day playing with them, but sometimes I find myself thinking that television is a godsend.

It provides us with a precious 10 minutes here or there when something mesmerising appears on CBeebies to load the washing machine, cook the tea, or even put your feet up and have a cuppa. And while the quality of children’s programming in the UK is high, I’ve noticed a substantial shift towards programmes focussed on numbers, letters, and academic style instruction in recent years, aimed at pre-school age children. But when is it too early to start teaching our children about these things?

Some children are naturally drawn to memorising letters and numbers, there are some who are able to hold a pencil well and there are others who seem to learn to read remarkably early. These children will most likely continue to flourish without early formal instruction or even encouragement.

But for most of us, if we want our children to do well, to have ambition and aspirations for the future, building confidence is the key. They will only be able to express themselves and achieve their full potential in whatever their chosen field, if they have confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Unfortunately, a sure fire way to stamp out confidence in children is to pressure them to gain academic skills too early... Dr David Elkind points out in Miseducation- Preschoolers at Risk, that academic instruction too young can cause “damage to a child’s self-esteem, the loss of the positive attitude a child needs for learning and the blocking of natural gifts and potential talents.”

Self-confidence and self-esteem are fostered in childhood when parents are patient, trusting their children to develop naturally at their individual pace. Providing opportunities to play is the best tool for this. Play provides the foundation for learning for every child and opens the door to a world of learning opportunities.

One of the greatest attributes of play is the opportunity it presents for learning to live in our world. We all learn more effectively through trial and error, and play is a non-threatening way to cope with new situations and challenges that present themselves to young children every day and still retain self-esteem and confidence.

At Eureka!curiosity is encouraged. Our focus is on providing enriching play experiences rather than presenting challenges to overtly educate, improve performance or enhance achievement. This is grounded in our understanding that children, particularly young children, learn best through play. We know that play allows children to explore, identify, negotiate, take risks and create meaning. We know this to be more important in early years than learning ABCs and 123s. Children encouraged to play have increased feelings of success and optimism, while also learning life skills; building relationships, resolving conflicts, negotiating and learning to regulate their behaviours, all of which are important building blocks to future success in adult life and in achieving their aspirations.

The research is clear; put the worksheets and flashcards away, and let’s proclaim our learning through play philosophy is the best preparation for our children.

What can you do at home?

lSupport your children in their play.

lUnderstand the importance of play and how much your child is learning.

lEngage in play with your children and provide opportunities for them to interact with other adults and other children in play.

lGet out the building blocks, dance, sing, create, run, laugh and watch your child’s learning unfold.

Remember our website has some great ideas for playing together at home.