The importance of play in child development

Finger painting

A recent New York times article highlighted the fact that play is so important for a child’s development. It can be viewed as the ‘child’s work’ as through it the child learns to interact socially with others, to regulate their emotions and to develop the skills they need for formal learning. It is an essential pre-requisite for academic learning.

In countries where children have a play based curriculum until they are 7 years old, they seem to cope better with formal learning than in countries like ours, where the pressure is on to introduce children to formal learning at ever younger ages.

Many parents do not realise the value of play and pressurise nurseries and schools to teach their children to read and write well before they are ready to do so. I have been asked to give workshops to parents at primary schools to help them understand the value of play to learning. In these I explain the vital importance of movement to brain development and learning.

Asking a child to read and write before they have the physical and neurological systems fully in place (two eyes working together as team, giving clear binocular vision; two ears working together, giving good auditory discrimination; a well-established vestibular system; the ability to cross the mid-line and well-developed gross and fine motor skills) actually places stress on the child’s system and makes it less likely that they will become effective learners. A stressed system cannot learn!