Why you should let your children play – The benefits of creative play in young children

I don’t know about you, but as a child I loved nothing more than playtime at school! The opportunity to go out in the playground and play on the climbing frame, play make-believe or play in the home-corner genuinely filled my soul with joy. But why is this? Leading child development experts now believe that children learn best through play and it must be encouraged and not discouraged.

In 2013, 127 senior child development figures in the UK, including Lord Layard, director of the wellbeing programme at the London School of Economics and Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the former children’s commissioner or England signed a letter to the government stating that they “did not support an early start to testing and quasi-formal teaching and they can provide considerable evidence to challenge it.”

The letter was also signed by Dr David Whitebread, senior lecturer in the psychology of education at Cambridge University and Catherine Prisk, director of Play England, and the psychoanalyst and writer Susie Orbach – they all believe that current educational policy is heading in a direction contrary to global best practice where children do not start formal education at 4 years old, like they do in the UK. The letter, in a nutshell, suggests that its better for young children to play in a nursery like setting for longer and that globally this has been proven to enhance the lives of these children as adults.

Rudolf Steiner, the innovative academic that founded the Steiner School movement where the priority is to provide an unhurried and creative learning environment, said that “we are all fully human only while playing, and we play only when we are human in the truest sense of the word.” Steiner schools encourage play, they allow children to progress at their own pace.

Through play we learn how to problem solve, how to interreact as part of a social group and how to create our own entertainment. In the digital world we now live in, where it’s hard to prise the iPad our of your child’s hand, the benefits of play are plain to see by even the staunchest traditionalist.

When children engage in pretend play, they’re actively experimenting with the social roles of life. Dr Catherine Neilsen-Hewett, a leading lecturer and researcher in child development, explains: “Imaginative play has the greatest impact on the development of key skills that are important for children’s success with peers. When playing creatively with their friends, your child learns to co-operate and compromise.”

She adds that it encourages children to participate in social activities and to understand social relationships. Weinberg emphasises the value of playing with dolls and toy action figures. She says that this form of play encourages children to learn how to interact socially and develop social cues by experimenting with eye contact, using different tones and emotions.

Children also learn to have conversations, which they enact by talking to their dolls and action figures and imagining responses. Playing with action figures also helps build self-esteem, as any child can be a hero – just by pretending.

One of the best ways to get children to be creative at school is to encourage creative play in the playground – companies such as Rhino Play are revolutionising this with their magical playground equipment which keeps children physically fit whilst allowing them to indulge their imaginations through creative play. The Castles and Forts, Boats & Ships and cars & trains that they produce create numerous opportunities for role play and to develop communication skills.

Create a playtime that that dreams really are made of!

For more information about the benefits of creative play, click here »

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