Early Learning Through Play

Blog · Jun 18, 2015

It’s that time of year when the days are growing longer and a trip to the beach may be on the horizon. The kids may be home for the summer, but they are learning essential skills even away from school. Amid sand castles and lemonade stands, the activities of child’s play continue the development of social emotional skills.

Much research has been devoted to the study of early childhood learning through play, and the results show there is a wide spectrum of benefits. Children’s play is essential to the development of their social emotional and executive function skills in both the short and long-term.

Pretend play with peers offers a particularly valuable element to social emotional learning.  It is most common for children ages 3-6 and involves taking on social roles and enacting narrative scripts.  According to Par Jane Hewes, PhD of the Early Childhood Learning Knowledge Center, pretend play “fosters communication, developing conversational skills, turn taking, and perspective taking, and the skills of social problem solving – persuading, negotiating, compromising, and cooperating.” Though children often create their own scripts, parents and caregivers can foster such creative play by organizing and encouraging children to participate in skits and role-plays that will aid them in working together while learning the skills they need for their future success.

Peter K. Smith, PhD and Anthony Pellegrini, PhD in the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development report a hypothesis that “pretend play enhances theory of mind development. Theory of mind ability means being able to understand (represent) the knowledge and beliefs of others; that is, that someone else can have a different belief or state of knowledge from yourself.” This type of peer interaction helps children try on different roles and learn how to express themselves, which in turn develops an awareness of self and of others.  With such skills, children develop empathy for their peers that will nurture their ability to engage in healthy relationship patterns.

Whether participating in play within a school environment, at home, or on vacation, young children are continuously developing fundamental skills through their activities.  Caregivers and educators can provide opportunities for children to explore their environments and relationships with their peers by fostering the prosocial peer bonding that will ready them for success in life.

So when you are at the beach this summer, take a closer look at that sand castle or that popular lemonade stand.  The skills your children used to build them will be the skills they use to build their successful futures.

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