Play is widely regarded as an essential part of the early learning process. Children who engage in meaningful play and other play-based activities typically demonstrate an ability to learn, develop, and grow at exceptional rates. Understanding how and why children learn through play can help educators, parents, and guardians alike better structure the lives of the children in their care.

Four Pillars

It has been argued by a number of experts in the child development and psychology fields that learning is most effective when at least one of four specified “pillars” is present. These pillars suggest that learning comes most naturally and effectively when children are active, social, and engaged, and when they can make meaningful connections between their lessons and their lives. In this sense, play hits all of these pillars, making it an exceptionally effective method of learning.

Organic Essential Skills

From fine and gross motor skills to the ability to socialize, compromise, and share with others, play provides ample opportunities for children to develop numerous key skills that are necessary for everyday life. Even when guided by prompts such as props, sets, or character identities, play is self-guided, which nurtures a sense of independence. Because children have a profound tendency to mimic and replicate that which they see, play tends to draw on experiences they have witnessed or experienced themselves, thereby cultivating a strong memory as well as opportunities to improvise and collaborate in a social setting.

Play as a vehicle for education is remarkably effective, especially with young learners who have disabilities or behavioral issues; because play is based on independence, imagination, and curiosity, children are able to freely express themselves while also developing relationships with others.

Guided Play

In a classroom setting, play can be used to facilitate direct lessons. Children may choose to play with model medical equipment, and an instructor or guardian may offer to guide this play by sharing the names of the equipment as well as basic information related to individual health. In doing this, an instructor can facilitate learning by simply sharing useful information with the children who can then adopt the details into their scene. A similar situation could be seen in a kitchen set with the use of measuring spoons, recipes, and more.

On its own, play is a great way for children to learn, explore, and discover new things. In education, play can be an effective tool used to facilitate learning, engage young learners, and promote higher rates of retention over a longer period of time.