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The key ways that children learn through play in the early years are both planned for by the staff as well as led by the children's interests.  The adult role in our early year’s settings is essential to ensuring that all children have a wide range of opportunities to support children's progress in all areas of learning.

Playing – indoors and out, alone and with others, quietly or boisterously – allows children to find out about things, try out and practise ideas and skills, take risks, explore their feelings, learn from mistakes, be in control and think imaginatively. Playing is an important centre of learning for young children. 


Being with other people - as well as developing emotional security and social skills, being with other people – other children and adults – stimulates ideas and involvement that move learning forward. 


Being active - young children need to move and learn and remember things by taking experiences in through the senses as they move. Sitting still for too long can disrupt learning.


Exploring new things and experiences - children’s deep curiosity leads them to use all their senses to explore in real hands-on activities, and then put the information together in their own minds to form ideas and make sense of the world. 


Talking to themselves - in ‘self-speech’ children use out-loud thinking to clarify their thoughts, regulate their activities, take on imaginative roles and rehearse their skills.  


Communicating about what they are doing with someone who responds to their ideas - even before they can talk in words, children are keen to share their ideas through sounds, gesture and body language. Talk helps children to understand what they experience. It is important that they have a chance to express their own ideas, as well as have conversations to hear other people’s ideas, extend their thinking, and use language about learning. 


Representing ideas and experiences - children deepen their understanding as they recreate experiences or communicate their thinking in many different ways – in role-play or small world play, pictures, movements, models, and talk.


Meeting physical and mental challenges - working out what to do, trying hard, persevering with problems, finding out and thinking for themselves are opportunities for developing real understanding. These challenges may occur in play, in real-life or planned activities. 


Being shown how to do things - children learn skills by watching others or being shown how to do something. Adults or peers may directly instruct, model, guide or demonstrate.  


Practising, repeating, applying skills - rehearsing skills in similar tasks or new contexts helps children to build mastery, to enjoy their own expertise, and to consolidate what they can do.  

Having fun - there is no place for dull, repetitive activities. Laughter, fun and enjoyment, sometimes being whimsical and nonsensical, are the best contexts for learning. Activities can be playful even when they are not actually playing.


Play engages children’s bodies, minds and emotions. In playing children can learn to interact with others and be part of a community, to experience and manage feelings, and to be in control and confident about themselves and their abilities.

Play can help children to develop these positive dispositions for learning: 

  • finding an interest 

  • being willing to explore, experiment and try things out 

  • knowing how and where to seek help 

  • being inventive – creating problems, and finding solutions 

  • being flexible – testing and refining solutions  

  • being engaged and involved – concentrating, sustaining interest, persevering with a task, even when it is challenging 

  • making choices and decisions 

  • making plans and knowing how to carry them out 

  • playing and working collaboratively with peers and adults 

  • managing self, managing others 

  • developing ‘can-do’ orientations to learning 

  • being resilient – finding alternative strategies if things don’t always go as planned 

  • understanding the perspectives and emotions of other people.


Click here for "Good practice in Early Education"


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