The early years are essential in laying the foundation of life. These years are the blueprint for your child to grow. To learn. To discover. To become the person they are going to BE. Let’s take a moment to really put a focus on the importance of these years. To really think about why our society needs to value the first 5 years as the backbone of everything else that comes after. And to value the play that naturally occurs during these years.
From the moment a child enters the world their magnificent brain is making connections. Synapses are firing all over the place, lighting up that wonderful cerebellum and making essential neurological pathways. The first few years of life are when these synapses go crazy. At no other time in life will a brain be more active!! During this period of massive growth it is essential that children are given time, opportunity, space and security to really work those pathways!! To begin with, connections and relationships are formed. Before a child can explore their world confidently they need to feel safe,secure and loved. In a care setting this is always our first priority -connection. A child will not feel comfortable enough to play until they supported by at least one (or several) special people. Once a child has their bucket filled with love, warmth, security, support and understanding THEN they feel free to explore, play and learn.
As we all know play is the vehicle of learning. If we give children time, space, materials and uninterrupted, unstructured exposure to the world around them they will develop the skills they need to be lifelong learners. Play is the most essential ingredient in early childhood education, (after love, of course) In play,children build relationships with peers, resolve conflicts, problem solve, develop critical thinking skills,regulate behaviors and have increased feelings of success, emotional competence and optimism. Play has been linked repeatedly to child well-being and feelings of self-actualisation.
When I discuss play, I am not talking about it as an ‘extra’ added onto a schedule of ‘planned’ activities. I am talking about it as the centre of all a child does. Play is not sitting at a table colouring in a worksheet. Play is not sitting through a scheduled adult-led game. Play is when a child decides the how, when, what and why…..and you leave them to it. When a child is ‘just playing’ it is so much more than ‘just play’ Those lovely neurosurgical pathways we discussed earlier? They are firing. They are creating connections and laying foundations. They are creating the pathways for your child’s LIFE. They are creating a child that is a learner. A life long learner.
So, when you watch your child pottering in their own world of play,value it. Your child, in that moment, is doing essential work. Your child, in these essential years of early childhood, is setting the scene of things to come. They are forming the basis of success later in life, of social competence and of a resilient, competent human.