The importance of play in preschool

We often hear of the importance of play in preschool. After all, children are playful by nature and having fun sets the foundation for learning. As children develop, their play takes on different meanings. For example, a 2-year-old typically plays by himself and does not develop much interest in interacting with other children. But as he hits 3 years and enters preschool, he starts to sit next to those and play with other children. By 4, this child as with other preschoolers seek out kids with similar interests and formulate ways to create elaborate play scenes. Around this age, preschoolers also start to understand the importance of empathy and the meaning of friendship.

As adults, our role is to facilitate such needs, help young children find the words to express themselves and essentially develop play for children. But considering the importance of academic success in Singapore’s environment, where does play fit in, how can we make it happen, and will play really benefit children in the years to come?

Let’s find out more.

Types of play

Children’s play can come in all shapes, sizes and forms — often they overlap, but generally these are the categories of play we believe are critical in a child’s growth.

This is what we call fantasy-directed play where children are allowed to be whatever they want to be, whether it’s a Disney princess or lumberjack. They play dress up in costumes, assume roles as characters, create imaginary settings, pretend to take on roles as adults and use toys to represent characters in stories.

Manipulative play involves handling small toys and objects such as beads, puzzles and lego bricks. Often, such play comes in the form of placing objects into containers and emptying them out and stacking things together. The key is to learn how to use their hands to manipulate objects.

Physical play involves using the whole body in activities like running, jumping and skipping to develop coordination and balance and test the limits of preschoolers’ abilities. We like including in some balls, skipping ropes, and even bikes!

Creative play is all about using art materials like paint and pencils to develop a product. But the focus should always be on the process, not the end product.

Benefits of play in a digital age

For many school-going kids, a large portion of their time outside of lessons are spent plugged into their phones and computers, given the easy accessibility to technology. This is why it’s especially important for preschoolers to have as much play as they can to develop naturally.

With that said, screen use and technology today is bound to be part of your child’s play experience. In any case, there are ways to use technology appropriately to benefit your child. But before we go into that, let’s first discuss the benefits of play in preschool.

Play allows children to develop physical skills; specifically gross and fine motor development. When kids play outdoors with the right amount of comfort and support given by adults, they push themselves to try out new challenges. Handling small objects allows children to practice using their hands and fingers, which develops their fine motor skills and ultimately builds the coordination and strength needed for writing. Tip: Design activities that allow children to physically engage and interact with both materials and other kids.

Children build language skills through collaborative play — but their success depends largely on their ability to explain themselves. This is where teachers play a huge role, as they repeat and teach words about the objects children are interested in. We’ve noticed in play sessions that children tend to talk to themselves while playing with others and repeat what they hear. Don’t prevent this; you’ll find that by allowing them to express themselves freely, slowly these random sayings develop into back and forth communication.

Trying to build a structure with blocks or making puzzle pieces fit is hard work for a preschooler. But it’s precisely overcoming this difficulty that helps children develop a strong sense of self-confidence. Teachers or adults should also validate these experiences by articulating and acknowledging what they observe and letting the preschooler know.

Social skills and development
Compromising, listening and negotiating are things some adults still struggle with, what more 4 and 5-year-olds — which is why these skills should never be overlooked or pushed to later in life if you want your child to grow up with healthy social and communication skills. Experiences through play in preschool help children think beyond their own needs, develop awareness of their environment and learn how to solve problems. For children who are naturally inclined to direct, play helps turn those impulses into positive leadership qualities.

How to incorporate technology into play?

Some screen use is fine, but it’s all about achieving a healthy approach and balancing it with other forms of traditional play. To help your child get the most out of technology, you can:

  • Use screens together with your child
  • Limit screen time
  • Choose age-appropriate apps and games
  • Ensure your child has healthy screen posture

Remember: always allow your preschooler opportunities to play, as they will approach learning with joy down the road!

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