Learning through play is so valid today. Every single child should be encouraged to play and the great part is they do not need expensive toys to do so. In fact, the simpler the toy the better for their imagination. Play fuels curiosity, it sparks creativity and inspires a lifelong love of learning. Children who play pick up all kinds of skills to thrive today and lay the foundations of a happier, healthier life tomorrow.
Play unlocks essential skills, not least fine motor skills. Our world never stops changing and if a child is given the opportunity to think, negotiate, adapt to new rules and try again when things don’t go to plan, they will develop skills that will last a lifetime.
Play is also good for mental health, children who are exposed to lots of play opportunities have more resilience and well-being that they carry from early childhood. We must never forget that when a child receives a gift they will find the box that it comes in equally engaging and I can remember loving large cardboard boxes that through triggering my imagination could be a car, a house, a castle, a spaceship or essentially just a safe space.
Play is for everyone and is how children learn naturally which is what makes it so powerful and why it is so important to make room for play. From an adult perspective, unfortunately, the best play is messy, it is explorative but most of all it is led by your child and is a journey of discovery and fun.
The great thing about creative play is that doesn’t have to cost a thing. Children do not need a specific level of ability or a dedicated space and they most certainly do not need an expensive set of toys to learn playfully. Make-believe, telling a story, playing hopscotch, and a game of tag, are all ways children show us how they feel while practising self-control, cooperation and creativity. Often it’s when children are not using expensive toys they express themselves the most. Give your child some pens, old boxes, glue and sticky tape and watch as their imagination runs wild and they create toys on their own. For a child everyday objects are playthings. My son’s favourite toys used to be 3 or 4 saucepans and my rolling pin, he used to bash away believing he was playing tunes to his favourite songs (thankfully Baby shark hadn’t been written then).
Studies show that playful learning helps disadvantaged children catch up to their more advantaged peers – in areas from maths to motor skills. So, when we invest our time in playful learning with our children it can have a broad impact. Play is a lifeline when a child has a crisis and it can bring out the child’s superhero in a crisis. Even just clapping along to songs can create togetherness, and a sense of normality even in countries affected by war and disaster.
Here are some super easy (and cheap) ideas for play.
Home Drum Set – Pans and spoons.
Place the pan’s open end down with lots of different sizes and encourage your child to bump the pans with wooden and metal spoons. They love the noise and you can get them to tap out rhythms’ to their favourite nursery rhymes.
Learning outcomes an understanding of different noises made by different materials, rhythm, motor skills and coordination. Being able to hit the object we are looking at is a learned skill.
Have you ever sewed/stuck or drawn buttons on an old sock? Then allowed the sock to be the focus of your story. Kids love the stupidity of their simple friend and will quickly lose themselves in conversation giving it an identity and allowing their imagination to take them to new places. A quick google and you can get all kinds of ideas, they can range from 2 eyes to hair, mouths noses etc. In my opinion, keep it simple.
Learning outcomes: Storytelling and role play as well as being great for fine movements need to make the puppet move. The fine movement required to wear a puppet helps with dexterity and using fingers to manipulate the puppet improves fine motor coordination. Young children love a game of “peek a boo” and a sock puppet is great for this. Children love to have conversations with their puppets and these verbal interactions encourage language development. If your child is shy, the pet puppet can become their voice. If your child puts on a puppet show it will help to increase their self-confidence. Additionally, skills in storytelling and sequencing stories will develop.
Sock sports winger
You may remember the playground fun of putting a tennis ball in a sports sock and holding one end as you bounce it between your legs, over your shoulder and head off the wall behind. There was something a bit scary and fun at the same time. It took lots of energy and coordination but was super cheap and always full of laughs with school friends.
Learning outcome: coordination and motor skills.
Cloud Dough with essential oils.
A great activity for young children is play dough, but it doesn’t have to be an expensive nasty smelling shop bought one, you can make your own. Either salt dough with flour and water or cloud dough with hair conditioner and cornflour which I love as you can also add essential oils and it is so soft you just want to play with it.
Learning outcome: It develops fine motor skills, it is calming and encourages creativity. Using and making things from the dough enhances hand-eye coordination, strengthens small fingers, hands and wrists teaches dexterity and control.
A big box can be a safe space, with four walls to colour, a car, a spaceship a castle and is literally a play toy for a long time. They can be made into dens which could also include blankets, furniture, sofas etc. Children absolutely love making dens and making up stories of hiding from animals, witches etc.
Learning outcome: Imagination, motor skills, problem-solving, dexterity.