Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Can a child learn through play?

This article has been taken with permission from Rise & Shine - it first appeared on their website on 1st June 2014.


Parents are hearing more that play is good for young children. However, there remains a sense of ambivalence – How much can a child learn through play? Does the child need both play and rote learning? Is my child getting smarter or less smart by playing?

Indeed these are difficult questions to tackle. Parents are rightly concerned on how they have to prepare their young children given the increasingly competitiveness in primary school with a more demanding curriculum. If play is truly important, parents ought to understand better what play is all about! This article explores a child’s learning through play, with the help of Ms Polene Lam, Founder & Director of Gifted Academy and Gifted Learners Student Care.

What is Play

Play is active, enjoyable and at the heart of it, having fun while navigating life. There are many different types of play, for instance:


  1. Having fun running, jumping or dancing, also grouped as active play
  2. Playing indoors on board games, puzzles or play dough, broadly termed manipulative play
  3. Playing alone, e.g. activity books
  4. Playing with others, e.g. in pretend play or games that involve more players
Play and have fun!


How does playing help a child learn? After all, playing hide-and-seek is not going to help the child learn more difficult vocabulary. Herein comes the concept of Multiple Intelligence – that there are more intelligences other than being word smart or mathematical smart, but instead encompass being intelligent at interpersonal skills, motor skills, art, music and self-perceptiveness. Ms Polene Lam, who is an experienced educator, gave an example of how a toddler can learn and develop intelligences in various areas.

For example, listening to music and dancing connects the movement and sound with the inner world of feelings for toddlers. It also provides an opportunity for them to talk about feelings such as “Does this song sound happy or sad? (Intra-personal intelligence). Music and dance helps toddlers to learn about patterns, rhythm and differences in sounds, thus, expanding their imagination (Musical and Mathematical Intelligence). Dancing is also good for developing physical fitness, balance, coordination and movement abilities (kinesthetic intelligence). Finger plays and other nursery rhymes are also beneficial in developing language skills (Linguistic Intelligence).

Is Screen-time Playtime?

Children view what is play differently as the lifestyle and toys they have access to evolve. Today, play may mean playing on smartphone, tablet or video games. However, screen time is not advised for children below the age of 2 years. Too much screen time has been linked to childhood obesity, aggressive behavior, inability to concentrate and even physical issues like back and eye pain. Thus, parents should not view play for young children as providing them with an electronic device.

It might be tough not to expose children 
to electronics but this is NOT play 
(image from 123rf.com/yupiramos)


Parents’ Role in Play

Parents play an important supportive role in play. Apart from being the provider of the resources (be it toys, puzzles or driving to zoo), parents are involved during playtime. First and foremost, parents themselves have to be conscious of their own screen time; children who are being ignored by their parents who are always on the phone may themselves decide to be hooked onto their own phone and ignore their parents!

Parents can be involved by being a playmate, without being an instructor. Ms Polene explained a few practical tips for how parents can be an effective play mate:


  • Provide sufficient time for play. Children need time to explore an activity, make up a story and be with their playmates. They become frustrated if play is interrupted often. Inventing a game takes time. Parents should allow your children to play in sufficiently large blocks of time for imagination to develop and interactions to take place. 


  • Arrange for variety in play experiences. Different kinds of play lead to different kinds of learning experiences. Story books can help with concentration. Kicking a ball helps to develop coordination and motor skills. Role play provides for creativity development and social interaction.

  • Explore play with children. Children enjoy directing their own play much of the time but they also benefit and gain ideas from parents’ suggestions. For example, introduce your child to novel activities such as hopscotch or help your child build a pyramid out of building blocks. Your child will most likely enjoy your involvement as you play with them.

  • Respond to a child’s invitation to play. Say “yes” when your child asks you to play.
Say YES and go out and play with your child 
\(image from 123rf.com/Dmitriy Shironosov)

  • Help children have positive play interactions with others. Parents can help their child learn to have positive play interactions with other children by encouraging the child to engage with each other. Provide guidance if needed and help them in resolving concerns or disagreements if necessary.


Play indeed is important for children to learn and develop multiple intelligences and skills. Should parents find it hard to carve out ‘play’ time, try taking a creative and playful approach to find play in everyday’s activities instead!



*please note that pictures have been added by us to enhance the delivery of the message.

No comments:

Post a Comment