The importance of play in education

Children often use play as a way to explore and learn, and therefore should be more encouraged by guardians and educators.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers.

Reggio-Inspired programmes are of the belief that children have one hundred languages, or ways to express themselves. The one hundred languages are often expressed through drawings, sculpting, music and movement, dramatic play, storytelling and painting. Allowing children to express themselves through these different modalities lays the foundation for continuous growth and development.

Play is best when a child decides and controls their play guided by their imagination, interests and instincts, within the rules and boundaries of the environment. It is important to encourage children to take the lead in their play, so it is not led by adults. There’s no right or wrong way to play.

If play is the work of a child, toys are the tools. Through toys children learn about their world, themselves and others. Play is an expression where children show their remarkable ability for exploration, imagination and decision making. Whilst this has been called ‘Children’s Work,’ they generally find it an enjoyable pastime. If children aren’t enjoying themselves, then something is wrong and they are not being true to themselves. Authentic play doesn’t need to be incentivised by a parent or caretaker as children are naturally drawn to play which brings a level of pleasure and enjoyment without the need for external rewards.


So how does play support your child’s development and learning? 

Play is important to healthy brain development as it allows children the opportunity to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, social cognitive, and emotional strength.

Play improves children’s health, well-being and development. They develop better confidence, self-esteem and resilience. Children learn to share, negotiate and solve problems through play. This encourages better coping skills in challenging situations. They are given the opportunity to explore, be curious and learn about the world and themselves. It develops their imagination, creativity, memory and attention span. Play helps children to develop their gross and fine motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination and overall physical abilities. Play offers children a safe and comfortable environment to express and regulate their emotions and develop empathy.

“Play is foundational for bonding relationships and fostering tolerance. It’s where we learn to trust and where we learn about the rules of the game. Play increases creativity and resilience, and it’s all about the generation of diversity—diversity of interactions, diversity of behaviours, diversity of connections. ” – Isabel Behncke, field ethologist and primatologist.


What can parents do to assist their children?

  1. Provide a safe and stimulating play environment with age-appropriate toys and materials. These should promote exploration and learning, such as blocks, puzzles, art supplies, and books.
  2. Engage in play with their children, taking turns, and following their lead.
  3. Provide unstructured playtime for children to explore and discover on their own.
  4. Encourage outdoor play and physical activities to promote gross motor skills and healthy habits.
  5. Encourage imaginative play and creative activities to foster cognitive and emotional development.
  6. Set clear limits and expectations for behaviour during playtime.
  7. Offer choices to children, allowing them to make decisions and have control over their play experiences.
  8. Provide positive feedback and praise for children’s efforts and accomplishments.
  9. Use play to help children learn and practise new skills, such as counting, sorting, and problem-solving.
  10. Encourage children to play with others to build social skills and foster cooperation.


In summary, play is critical for young children’s development as it offers numerous benefits across physical, social, cognitive, and emotional domains. Parents and caregivers can encourage development through play by providing a safe and stimulating play environment, engaging in play with their children, and offering opportunities for unstructured free play, exploration, creativity, and socialisation. For more information, visit


This article was supplied by Shani Brest, Gr 1 and Trish Scott foundation phase teacher at Bellavista School.

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