Meaningful is when the child can relate new experiences to something already known. In play, children often explore what they have seen and done, or noticed others do, as a way of grasping what it means. By doing so, they can express and expand their understanding through a variety of media, symbols and tools.
From a toddler trying different ways to build a high tower with blocks, to a young child discovering that the angle of a slide impacts how far a marble will shootacross a room, iteration – trying out possibilities, revising hypotheses and discovering the next question – leads to increased learning.
Social interaction is a powerful tool for both learning and play. By communicating their thoughts, understanding others through direct interaction and sharing ideas, children are not only able to enjoy being with others, but also to build deeper understanding and more powerful relationships.
These five characteristics ebb and flow as children are engaged in learning through play activities and all five are not necessary all the time. But over time, children should experience moments of joy and surprise, a meaningful connection, be active and absorbed, iterate and engage with others.
Theorists, researchers and practitioners in child development and education have done an excellent job of extending the view of learning to go beyond memorising academic content, by highlighting that children need to develop a breadth of skills. A holistic approach which also includes their physical, social, emotional, cognitive and creative skills is essential.
Research shows that these different skills and aspects of development are not silos as much as they are interconnected gears: development in one influences development in another. For example, a whole new world opens to a toddler who learns to walk instead of crawl - now he can go in search of his caregiver, gaining access to new language, interactions, and play. Social competence and emotion regulation in turn underpin children’s cognitive skills, and language helps childreninteract with peers in positive ways. Studies looking across the span of childhood find that infants who are more physically active and explore more at the age of 5 months show more success in school at age 14.
Knowing how to read, write and do maths is still important for children to take part in the world. But it is vital to apply a holistic approach to children’s learningand development, recognising a broader set of skills that underpin learning for life.
Skills for holistic development
Because child development is beautifully complex, we take a holistic view and highlight the importance of children’s physical, social, cognitive, creative and emotional skills and how these complement and interact with one another.
Understand, manage and express emotions by building self-awareness and handling impulses, as well as staying motivated and confident in the face of difficulties.
Concentration, problem solving and flexible thinking by learning to tackle complex tasks and building effective strategies to identify solutions.
Being physically active, understanding movement and space through practicing sensory-motor skills, developing spatial understanding and nurturing an active and healthy body.
Collaborate, communicate and understand other people’s perspectives through sharing ideas, negotiating rules and building empathy.
Coming up with ideas, expressing them and transforming them into reality by creating associations, symbolising and representing ideas and providing meaningful experiences for others.
The power of play
Longitudinal studies underscore this need for supporting a breadth of skills in children. Their ability to share ideas and resources, be helpful and listen to others all help predict their level of education and job situation. The same is true for important aspects such as attention and focus, confidence, perseverance, spatial understanding and explorative behaviour.
Play has a key role in developing, encouraging and promoting these holistic skills from birth and throughout life. The nature of a child’s play activities will vary – depending on age, context and culture – and their skills will increase in complexity. However, the basic structures of these skills are present right from early infancy, and are supported and strengthened by high-quality play experiences.
Playful experiences in the early years allow you to acquire the critical skills for learning throughout a lifetime.