If asked, I will often say that the best way a parent can help their child succeed at school is to read with them regularly. Watching my own kids though, I’d like to amend that- I now think playing is the most important thing that children can do to build the skills and attributes necessary for success at school. While reading is absolutely vital, play sets up even more foundational skills for young minds and bodies.
Through play, children learn about the world and their place in it. Experimenting with different characters and scenarios builds confidence, self-esteem, resilience, social interaction and skills, independence, curiosity, creativity and coping strategies.
When a child decides on the play and controls it themselves (without adult input), following their own instincts, imagination and interests, they have independent opportunity to improve their health, wellbeing and development. Both indoor and outdoor play is vital, but outdoor play often lends itself to improving physical fitness, agility, stamina, coordination and balance.
The struggle for me can be stepping back and just letting them be kids. I tend to want to insert myself into their play, putting boundaries around what they can and can’t do (often for valid safety reasons). But if I just let them be, their creativity ignites. I may have more dirty clothes to wash as a result, but it’s a small sacrifice for their emotional development! And, I can involve them in using the washing machine, so everybody wins!
We’ve had to get a bit creative about using our outdoor space at our house. We don’t have much, and the space we have isn’t the best for young kids to play in for hours on end, but through their own creativity, my kids dragged their toolboxes under the house and spent most of the weekend digging, hammering, screwing, measuring, and having fun getting dirty. All weekend, they chatted, ‘pretend that I hit the hammer on my hand and you had to call the ambulance and look after me.’ When I let them do their own thing, there is lots of creativity and exploration of their place in society through imaginative play.
Are there ways you could adapt your routines, resources, space and expectations to allow for more creative and independent play? Perhaps switching screens off and relaxing afternoon and weekend schedules will be a great way to start giving your kids the opportunity to create their own fun through play, and to develop the skills necessary to thrive at school and beyond.
Mrs Hayey Burns / Junior School Learning Support Coordinator