Children learn through play.
Benefits of Play
Play nourishes a child’s growth and forms the foundation of intellectual, social, physical and emotional skills.~ Fiona Ireland, Kindergarten Director
Play is critical for the development of every child. It fosters creativity and critical thinking and helps children build skills they will use throughout their life. These days, there is increased focus on academic skills and structured teaching in the classroom. This means time for play is at risk. But play and learning are intertwined.
When children are engaged in play, they are learning and strengthening the skills that support their learning.
Play-based learning underpins Australia’s Early Years Learning Framework. Play provides a context for learning by allowing children to be curious and creative, explore new concepts and connect new learning with previous experiences. Play also provides an avenue for children to make sense of their social worlds through active engagement with peers, parents and teachers.
Play-based learning can take place through free play or guided play and can happen indoors or outside. In each case, the key is that children take the lead and are supported, but not directed, by their educators. Educators can support learning through play by observing children in play, asking questions and prompting children to expand their thinking and extend their abilities. Positive play experiences foster children’s desire to know and learn.
Active play is an essential component of play. Active play builds gross motor and fine motor skills, strengthens bones and muscles, improves balance and coordination, and allows children to learn rules, practice teamwork and communicate with others. Active play also leads to improved concentration in the classroom and can help to relieve stress and reduce anxiety.
These days there are fewer opportunities to be active than in the past – fewer urban play spaces, smaller backyards and less school time devoted to play and sport. This means children’s lifestyles are becoming more sedentary.
Less physical activity and more sedentary time puts children at increased risk of health problems such as obesity.
It is critical that children have the opportunity to engage in active play every day. Time spent in active play doesn’t have to happen all in one go. Active play is just as valuable if made up of smaller bouts of activity throughout the day.
In Australia, evidence based recommendations outline the amount of physical activity for optimal health. Guidelines recommend infants have floor play including tummy time for small bouts across the day, for a total of 30 minutes each day. For children aged 1 to 5 years it is recommended to spend 180 minutes being physically active each day, including some vigorous play like running and jumping or kicking and throwing balls. For children aged 5 to 12 years it is recommended to spend at least 60 minutes participating in moderate to vigorous activity each day.
Just as it is important to be active, it is important to limit time spent being sedentary.
Australian research shows that many young children are spending large amounts of sedentary time in front of televisions and computers. Too much time in front of screens means children are missing out on opportunities for social and active play. If children develop the habit of spending large amounts of time in front of screens, these habits can be hard to change later on.
Australian guidelines recommend sedentary time is limited for infants and children. When children are sedentary, it is recommended that adults engage with them, reading books, telling stories, singing or doing puzzles or drawing. Guidelines recommend infants don’t spend any time in front of screens, and toddlers spend less than one hour per day watching screens such as TV, computers or other electronic devices. For children over five, the recommendation is to limit screen time to no more than two hours each day.