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The Importance of Play for Primary School Children

The importance of learning through play in Early Childhood Education has been highlighted for many years, but it seems that once children reach Primary School level they are immediately expected to sit at desks and learn from books or other visual stimuli.


While technology has improved matters somewhat, allowing children to engage with the internet, Smartboards and iPads and the like, a key component of learning is still missing. Most children, and adults, learn best through experience and experimenting. Open-ended playing, where children are given specific toys to play with but without instructions, affords huge learning opportunities far beyond the reach of a textbook or computer game.


At Salisbury House we incorporate large amounts of play in our learning. This week the children were given a wooden train set to play with. Although this may seem too childish to some people, it is important to remember that Primary School aged children play differently to young children.


Skills such as spatial awareness, spatial perception and position in space are all needed in order for children to play this game together. Directionality and laterality (crossing the midline) are greatly practised here too. Besides being an occupational therapists dream, many academic skills are honed during play too.


Fitting different track pieces together help in understanding straight and curved lines, forward planning is needed in order to build a track that connects and allows the trains to run the full course and an understanding of traffic signs are needed in order to place them correctly in the play area. Geographical sense is needed to set up a track where a city and rural settlement might be placed along a train track.


The possibilities of learning through play is endless, but perhaps the most importance skill that is practiced is social skills. It is incredibly difficult for children to be given a toy and be told to “play” these days. They learn to take turns, share, negotiate and even compromise sometimes. Simple things like speaking respectfully to one another and not grabbing are also important to point out when the excitement gets too much.


As Dr Peter Gray, psychology researcher and scholar put it : “Perhaps play would be more respected if we called it something like “self-motivated practice of life skills,” but that would remove the lightheartedness from it and thereby reduce its effectiveness. So we are stuck with the paradox. We must accept play’s triviality in order to realize its profundity.”



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