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The Importance of Play-Based Learning

Two kids are running and playing, with their hands up in the air.

Play is essential to a child’s development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth. An ever-growing body of research highlights the importance of play when learning.

Play is essential to a child’s development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth. An ever-growing body of research highlights the importance of play when learning.

It allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practising adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adults. In the process, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, and learn self-advocacy skills. Play also allows children to be creative while developing their imagination, dexterity, and cognitive strength.

But above all, play is a simple joy that is a cherished part of childhood. As we strive to create the optimal developmental milieu for our children, play must be included along with academic and social enrichment opportunities.

Five middle-aged kids are posing for a photo, standing against a wall.

Research by Dr Karyn Purvis discovered that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain unless it is done in play, in which case it only takes 10 to 20 repetitions.


The Covid-19 lockdowns around the world caused many to express concerns for children’s educational needs and mental well-being. Surveys concluded that since lockdown began, almost 8 in 10 children spent more than 3 months at home and parents struggled to keep restless kids engaged with their school work and maintaining a positive outlook.

Indeed, a survey led by experts at the University of Oxford tracked 12,300 children’s mental health throughout the Covid-19 crisis. Parents and carers reported that their children displayed increasingly difficult behaviours, including temper tantrums, arguments and not doing what they were being asked to do. They also became more fidgety and restless and had greater difficulty paying attention.

Reduced Child-driven Play

Despite the numerous benefits derived from play, there has been a marked reduction in free play over time. This trend has even affected kindergarten children, who have had free play reduced in their schedules to make room for more academics. A 1989 survey taken by the National Association of School Principals found that 96% of surveyed school systems had at least one recess period. Another survey a decade later found that only 70% of kindergarten classrooms had a recess period.

There are many reasons and factors contributing to this trend, and conflicting messages about what parents should do to prepare their child for what is perceived to be an increasingly complicated, competitive world. The most important thing to remember as a parent is the fact you have a responsibility to promote all the needs of your child, including physical, emotional and social needs. You should therefore support your child in becoming resilient, learning through play and by reducing excessive stressors in their lives.

Silhouette of two kids holding hands

Top Tips for Play-Based Learning and Development

Here are top tips from the Ease Wellness team on how you can incorporate and integrate more play-based learning opportunities into your child's day to boost their growth and development, and to help them ultimately reach their full potential in life.

Adopt a free-play policy

Adopt free play as a healthy, essential part of childhood. Provide your child ample, unscheduled, independent, nonscreen time to be creative, to reflect, and to decompress. While you can certainly monitor play for safety, a large proportion of play should be child-driven rather than adult-directed.

Encourage active play

Emphasise the advantages of active play and discourage your children from the overuse of passive entertainment (eg, television and computer games).

Boost activity levels

Remember that active child-centred play is a time-tested way of producing healthy, fit young bodies. Allow time in your child’s day for play to help them grow and develop their physical skills.

Toy investment

Emphasise and invest in “true toys” such as blocks and dolls, with which children use their imagination fully, over passive toys that require limited imagination.


Share unscheduled spontaneous time with your children and play with them to develop a supportive, nurturing and productive relationship with your child.

Avoid over-committing

Be aware that arranging the finest opportunities for your children may not be your best opportunity for influence, and shuttling your child between numerous activities may not be the best quality time. Children will be best poised for success by simply having the knowledge that their parents absolutely and unconditionally love them. Remember that the most valuable and useful character traits that will prepare your children for success arise not from extracurricular or academic commitments, but from a firm grounding in parental love, role modelling, and guidance.

Community play

Organise playgroups beginning at an early preschool age to encourage cooperative play and the process of socialisation. Utilise appropriate resources in your community that foster play.

Balance sports & academics

Support your child in having an academic schedule that is appropriately challenging and extracurricular exposures that offer appropriate balance. What is appropriate has to be determined individually for your child on the basis of their unique needs, skills, and temperament, not on the basis of what may be overly pressurised or competitive community standards or a perceived need to gain tertiary admissions.

Pursue variety

Allow your child to explore a variety of interests in a balanced way without feeling pressured to excel in each area. Even if your child displays particular talent in one area, provide them with the opportunity to explore other areas of interest.

Childcare choices

When choosing child care and early education programs for your children, choose settings that offer more than “academic preparedness.” Pay attention to whether the settings attend to all the needs of your child, including the social and emotional developmental needs of your children.

Professional help

Seek help if your child ever shows signs of excessive stress, anxiety or depression.

“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million”. ~ Walt Steightif

If you need help with supporting your children's learning through play, consider booking a Kinesiology and Coaching session with Katherine Anderson.

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