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The innate drive for children to play

In the dictionary, the definition of play is involved in some activity for fun and recreation. All people play in different ways because of their age. For children play is more than an “activity for fun” is playing that they interact, discover, and explore the world and develop themselves. Play permits children to use their imagination even though developing physical, cognitive, and emotional skills.

Play is essential to healthy development and wellbeing and children have an impulsive innate to play. “All children and young people need to play (…) Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated”.

“There is some speculation that, as many young animals play as a way of practicing skills, this is probably the basis for children's interest in play”.

How play is necessary for the development of children

Play is an indispensable part of each child's life and it is exciting for the children's development. Through play, children develop language skills, emotions, and creativity, social and intellectual skills. For these reasons, play is included in the early years curriculum in the UK.

For most children, their play is normal and impulsive while some children might need extra help from adults. From a children's point of view, play is something fun – from the early years educator, play is the way of supporting development.

The plays support development in many areas:

  • Physical development: it is through physical movements that children use their energy and develop muscles, control over their body (balance), and motor skills. Physical play also helps a children’s healthy growth including healthy weight and reducing the risks of diseases like diabetes or cancer, building strong hearts, muscles and bones. Physical activities can also increase mental wellbeing, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

  • Cognitive development: play has a positive effect on the children’s brain and helps them to learn. Play is important for children’s brain development. Free play helps a child’s confidence, intelligence, and communication. Playing the children can practice what they learned. According to Jean Piaget, play construct knowledge. Play makes children make choices and drives activities (planning).

  • Language development: play helps children develop language skills, inspires independent intelligence and problem-solving. Play also helps children develop verbal skills. Play allows children to practice the language skills that they learn and increase their vocabulary. Children play singing songs, making rhymes, communicating with other children or people.

  • Emotional development: play increases children's social capability and emotional maturity. Play allows children to express their feelings. Children can understand better the world playing, simulating in the situations they can control.

  • Social development: playing children also make friends, build relationships, take turns, share, etc. They also learn about work as a team, mutual respect, and help.

The rights of children in relation to play as detailed in the ‘UN Conversation on the Rights of the Child’

The UN (United Nations) Convention on the Rights of the Child is UNICEF’s work. “It is the most complete statement of children’s rights ever produced and is the most widely-ratified international human rights treaty in history”.

The UK officially adopted this convention in 1991. The children have many rights and it is written in the convention. Some of the rights are the right to education, play, leisure, and culture.

“Every child has rights, whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities or any other status”.

Settings need to meet the right for children to play

There are many ways to meet the right of children to play. The early settings should plan proper areas where the children can use all the materials available for them and give children the opportunities to make choices, to choose what to do and what/how to play. Another way to meet the rights is by providing materials from different cultures.

The early years setting must provide time to play but also the resources and the environment. The setting can have outdoor areas, but if not the practitioners must go with children in public areas outside the setting, as parks and playgrounds.

The rooms must have many different resources possible, obviously respecting the children ages, then children can be provided with plenty of opportunities to play.

A good environment should improve children's development learning, using play as a tool. The way the place (environment/setting) is planned and organised affects how children feel and behave. The settings develop through activities and resources in specific play areas.

The characteristics of:

  • Child-initiated play: play in which children choose what/how to play and who to play with. The setting is an important factor in supporting child-directed play. Making areas to encounter the diverse requests of play can allow children to contribute in child-initiated activities and use the space to figure their thoughts and knowledge. “Child-initiated play supports children in having ideas and being in control of their learning. It enables them to learn through first-hand experiences, allowing them to choose how to use the resources to do so. Child-led activities may start out as an adult-initiated activity however by allowing the child space and time; the child may extend the resources and ideas given to create their own experience. It is important to strike a balance between adult-led and child-initiated activities to meet best the children’s outcomes.”There are many benefits of children of child-initiated play: they grow confidence, they increase concentration, they feed their creativity and imagination and they learn to be perseverant.

  • Adult-led play: adults organise and lead activities for children. Adults set up opportunities for children to discover. In Adult-led, the adult decides what skills, ideas, and knowledge children should need and organize the activity for children. Adult-led is important and can help children to explore new materials, new resources, etc. Adult-led play will be strategically planned what a practitioner wants a child to learn or experience. Early Years Educators will follow the leadership of the related curriculum in order to plan their adult-led play.


TASSORI, Penny. Early Years Educator – for the work-based learner. Cache level 3

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