Early Years Update looks at the benefits of using play as a developmental tool with young children, particularly focusing on the added value of parental support and involvement

Helping parents to understand the value of young children’s play, and explaining to them what they are learning while they play, is a very important role for the early years practitioner. It helps parents to value their children’s play at home and in the early years setting and will provide a good starting point for building up an effective partnership with parents.

As babies and young children explore the world they inhabit, they are naturally drawn to learning through playing and being playful. For young children, play is their work. Play engages children’s bodies, minds and emotions, building up knowledge, skills and attitudes that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. In their play, children take control of their own learning by making choices, following preoccupations and interests, asking questions and practising their skills. They interact with others, learn how to manage their feelings and become confident about themselves and their abilities.

Play can help children to build up the attitudes and dispositions which will make them lifelong learners. These include:

  • finding and following interests and preoccupations
  • making choices and taking decisions
  • being willing to explore, experiment and try things out
  • raising problems and finding solutions
  • making plans and carrying them out
  • concentrating, persevering with a task, rising to challenges
  • being resilient − finding alternative ways of doing things when initial attempts don’t work out
  • managing their own behaviour and that of others
  • playing cooperatively with others, including adults
  • understanding the feelings and views of other people.

Ideas to share with parents

The place of play in the early years setting
To ensure that young children have access to all the experiences they need to further their learning and development, it is important that they be involved in many different types of play in the early years setting. These might include:

  • completely free, unstructured play where children play without adult support
  • child-initiated play where the adult’s role is to provide an enabling environment and sensitive interaction
  • adult guided, playful experiential activities.

Evidence shows that children benefit most when they have opportunities to experience a balance of each of these types of play and playful activities. Helping parents to understand how children encounter these different types of play during a typical day will help them to understand more about the ways the early years setting supports their child’s learning and development. This will help to allay any anxieties they have about children ‘needing to move on’, ‘getting ready for school’ and ‘wasting time playing’ rather than doing ‘proper work’.

Play at home
Share the following ideas with parents to provide them with other ways they could support and extend their child’s play and learning.

  • Language development
    • Cut some characters out of comics or birthday cards and glue them on to lolly sticks or pieces of strong card to make some stick puppets. Have fun telling stories with the stick puppets. Try using the stick puppets, or your hand, to make shadow puppets.
    • When out for a walk, or playing in the garden or the park, trying moving in different ways. Say, ‘Let’s pretend we are soldiers.’ ‘Let’s pretend we are dinosaurs.’ ‘Let’s pretend we are frogs.’
  • Reading and writing
    • When unpacking the shopping let your child play ‘shops’ with the tins and packets before you put them away. Help your child to ‘read’ the information on the tins and packets that tells her what is inside.
    • At the end of the year give your child old diaries or calendars to play with. Leaflets and forms which are delivered as junk mail make excellent starting points for role play.
  • Exploring numbers
    • Make some props to go with the action rhymes ‘ Two little dickie birds’, ‘Five little ducks’, ‘Five currant buns’ , ‘Five fat sausages sizzling in the pan’. Use two paper birds attached to your fingers, five plastic ducks, cardboard sausages or pictures cut out of magazines, and currant buns made out of playdough.
  • Exploring and investigating
    • Have fun playing with a torch. You can use a torch indoors or out of doors when it is getting dark. If you are playing indoors you can make a dark den by placing a thick cloth or blanket over a table – try adding some shiny things to the den.
  • Using ICT
    • Make a collection of unused technology equipment for your child to use in their imaginative play – a mobile phone, keyboard, computer mouse, telephone, cassette recorder, or hairdryer.
  • Links with EYPS Standards: S11, S12, S13, S14 S31, S32
  • Links with Ofsted SEF: Section 3, 4d, 4f, 5i

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2010

About the author: Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton are early years consultants, trainers and authors and edit Early Years Update www.alcassociates.co.uk