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Rethinking Play

Updated: Apr 27, 2018

Playing seems to be something all children do to pass the time and engage with their environment, particularly young children.

For parents, it’s great to see their child having fun, but caregivers also want to ensure they are offering opportunities for their child to promote school readiness skills, and set their child up for success in school and in life. Play is part of typical human development. Apart from the physical aspects of play that a child masters with practice, critical cognitive and neural development also occurs through play. Children who play well are better thinkers. Therefore, play is an important skill to master to be ready for formal schooling. There is a large body of scientific research that supports this assumption. Longitudinal studies have consistently shown that:


1. Children who are better players in preschool will have better language in primary school, and beyond.


2. Children who have more complex play in the preschool years go on to have better higher level thinking by mid-primary school.


3. Better academic outcomes in school are achieved for those children who attended play based preschools compared with academic based programs.


4. Better quality of life outcomes were experienced by those children attending play based preschool compared with children who attended academic preschool programs.



Your child is thinking a lot when they play, and a lot of the skills they are practicing are those needed to cope and succeed in school.
1. Sequencing a story or scenario, which is a skill used to complete a task, such as an assignment; to understand reading material such as a text for school; and to effectively communicate learning to the teacher, in both oral and written language. This is an active process used across all subjects at school, as well as activities of daily living. 2. Perspective taking by becoming a character in play promotes flexible thinking, which is vital for critical analysis and evaluation of information. It’s also an important part of the social thinking one uses in relationships. In school, children will use this level of processing in English and humanities based subjects. 3. When something doesn’t quite go as planned, your child will problem solve and adjust their play accordingly. This is important to cope with the many hurdles that life throws at us – be it academically, socially or professionally throughout life. This processing is recruited particularly in math and science based subjects at school. 4. Children will play with their friends, so they are learning to be part of a group. A lot of effort and cognitive processing goes into becoming part of the group, and children are practicing and mastering a life long skill they will use ongoing. 5. When group play becomes difficult, children must learn to negotiate. As much a life skill as an academic one, we all use this to help move forward with a plan or goal, and we will likely need to do this everyday. 6. Language processing increases a lot through play. Children hear and use language when playing with their friends, carers, and even by themselves. Sometimes you may even observe your child talking while playing alone. Even if they’re quiet, they’re probably thinking in language during play. Play Run in the park 7. When your child creates a play scene or assembles objects into constructions, they are hypothesizing and predicting what will happen, investigating possibilities, and being flexible by using trial-and-error to evaluate how it is going. These skills become crucial in school, particularly for math and science based subjects. 8. By engaging in play, your child is practicing to do just about anything they can imagine. Play is a safe environment to investigate new possibilities, and when your child experiences success, they are increasing their resilience and independence. Work is play for children.

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