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Infant Insights – The importance of play

By Sarah Bagnell, Head of K1, UWCSEA Dover
22 November 2022

Outdoor Education Primary School

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Maya Angelou

I am fortunate that I get to play at school everyday with your fabulous children. I see Maya Angelou’s quote come to life each day. Play is at the heart of the programme we run here at UWCSEA. As a school we wholeheartedly believe that by learning through play, students will have a successful start in their education journey.

Play is globally recognised as an important vehicle for children’s development so much so that article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that:

"1. States Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” 

Play comes in many forms; imaginative play, physical play, social play, constructive play, and games with rules. Often adults can become distracted by the day to day trials of life and this can lead to opportunities to play with children being overlooked. It is vital to leave time and space to play with your child. In our digital world, children need opportunities to play without devices. 

At school, our Discovery Time programme allows children moments to follow their own interests and move between the different engagements that have been set up by the teachers. These provocations are founded in the belief that by playing children will be developing skills, knowledge and understanding which in turn links to our curriculum benchmarks. 

Here are some ideas of ways to play at home: 

1. Sand and Water Play

Head to East Coast or West Coast Park and bring a bucket and spade. Sand play is a fantastic opportunity for the foundations of scientific learning, and developing self-confidence and physical development. Scooping, digging, pouring, and sifting teaches children how things work, whilst also building their muscles and coordination. Water play enables children to experiment in a safe environment with basic concepts such as volume and capacity. Additionally, water play is great for learning consequences of actions. Add in some hand-eye coordination and physical strength, and water play is a firm favourite.2. Playdough

Playdough has many benefits including being calming, improving hand-eye coordination and being a great vehicle for creativity. You can buy playdough in a shop, however,  it is fun and easy to make at home. Here is my favourite recipe: 

  • 2 cups plain flour (all purpose)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil  (baby oil and coconut oil work too)
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 1 to 1.5 cups boiling water (adding in increments until it feels just right)
  • gel food colouring (optional)

3. Dress up and role play

Using old material or clothes as costumes is a fun experience that I loved when growing up. Let your child use their imagination to create new characters or dress as a famous person. Join them in this activity and use questions like ‘Who are you pretending to be?’. ‘What is your character's name?’, ‘What do they do?’ etc. 

4. Building materials and jigsaws

Playing with blocks, jigsaws, and cardboard boxes all lay the foundations of spatial thinking, logical reasoning, ordering, and recognising various shapes, sizes, and colours. Bigger cardboard boxes can be used to create dens or instruments. These are wonderful open-ended resources to use when participating in imaginative play.

5. Outdoor Play

Being outdoors is vital for young children. Wander around the grounds of your home, ask your child to tune into the nature they see using their senses. You can also use the opportunity to discuss the numbers in the lift, the letters on the signs and other recognisable print and symbols, these are all important ways to keep learning fun!

Play gives children opportunities to expand their imagination, to problem solve, to take turns and to be creative. It should be a regular part of your child’s life and it is important to make time for play at home.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing” often rings in my ears as I look around at children playing. We are never too old to play! 

– George Bernard Shaw