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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


How Children Learn Through Play?

By Andrew Loh

A few decades ago, parents just used to enroll their children to kindergarten to make them ready to go to school. Parents considered kindergarten stage as the stage where children are transformed into knowledgeable, responsible and smart individuals. To certain extent, this point of view is valid and appropriate. However, admitting your children to a kindergarten class is just enough to make your children smart and intelligent. There is more to kindergarten that you can imagine, and almost everyone is discussing about the validity of making children ready to go to school before they are actually enrolled into a KG class. “School readiness” is the buzzword for today's educational experts and academicians!

Preschoolers need more of physical activities than reading and writing programs, because nature provides them a unique gift of learning by playing. Playing is a physical activity but it involves a multi-dimensional learning paradigm that makes children ready for their next level of learning, which is kindergarten. Early playing and activities always facilitate early learning. Playtime also provides an opportunity for children to absorb new ideas, learn new things, and comprehend real meanings of events that go on around their physical world.

Children play to grow! There are many reasons for it. All children have their natural way of playing and learning in the process. Early playing is essential for all children. In fact, playing never disturbs classroom learning. In fact, playing is one of the important ways through which children learn. When children play before going to kindergarten classes, they would have initiated their brain cells to get ready for advanced learning that occurs in a kindergarten class and beyond it.

Play and brain development are closely interrelated. Scientific research has already established that playing at an early age can improve cognition and stimulate areas that surround the cerebral cortex sector of brain. In 2006, Pellegrini and Holmes conducted many studies to demonstrate that schoolchildren develop an ability to focus on their studies, when they get a recess in between classes. The authors also suggested that teachers should provide them an unstructured break when children are allowed complete freedom to play as they wish and without supervision from adults (please read the research report whose link is given below).

Two other noted authors, Stevenson and Lee (2000) reported that students of Chinese and Japanese origin who are among the top achievers in the word, usually go to schools that give them breaks every one hour or so. Some people believe that structured and delivered physical education classes are good for children. However, because of their rigid structure, children may not get similar benefits as they would get with free play that is unstructured and unorganized. Pelligrini and Holmes also believe that intermittent recesses are good for children and each session might last about 20 minutes at the maximum. Anything beyond this time interlude could be counter-productive because children might get tired very easily and find learning distracting because of energy loss in the body.

Children learn linguistic skills by playing

Pretend play or symbolic play plays a great role in enhancing early language skills among children. Fisher (1999) has already demonstrated how play helps children in fine-tuning early language skills. In fact, playing has many cognitive benefits for children one of them being streamlining those areas of brain that boost linguistic and speaking skills. This author also introduced a new educative word - “socio-dramatic play” to explain what happens when children play together and pretend play. In fact, the results demonstrated by the author was startling - “results in improved performances in both cognitive-linguistic and social affective domains.” (Please see authors report to learn more)

Children solve problem creatively when they play

Humans can solve two types of problems depending on their abilities to solve them by using their intellect. These two types of problems are as follows:

  1. Convergent problems that provide a single type of solution or answer.

  2. Divergent problems that provide a range of solutions or answers.

Past research demonstrated that children who play at an early age develop abilities to solve a multitude of problems at the same time. To support this finding, two authors, Pepler and Ross (1981) conducted a school experiment that consisted of the following:

  • One batch of children was presented with a number of play materials like puzzle pieces. This ensured that children played with a system of convergent play.

  • Another batch of children was provided with materials for divergent play like blocks and stack pieces.

Surprisingly, this experiment revealed that children who used divergent materials could solve a multitude of problems very easily. In addition, these children also displayed additional levels of creativity while attempting on solving different problems. In other words, “playful” play can help children develop a series of cognitive skills to solve real life problems.

Free play can help children develop early math skills

Early match skills and free play go hand in hand! Wolfgang and others (2001) reported that there is a close relationship between sessions of block and stack play and academic performance through lower, primary and higher schools. A session with block play can enhance children's early math skills in higher schools when compared to those children who do not play with blocks and stacks.

Free play can enhance imagination, experimentation and logic skills in children

With active play, children can develop imagination skills that include representation of people, objects and ideas. Just look at your children when he plays butterflies, cartoon heroes and fairy kings. When children develop how to relate cause and effects, they will streamline logic and experimentation. In addition, they will also learn how to succeed after conducting several trials and experiments.

In all, children play and learn when they are young. It is difficult to say what they learn when they are young. However, one thing is certain - that they are more likely to develop a series of cognitive skills with active and free play. You can continue to read Children Learn Through Play - Toys for Boosting Creativity, Discovery and Exploration.


Fisher, Edward P. (1992). The impact of play on development: A meta-analysis. Play and Culture, 5(2), 159-181.

Pelligrini AD and Holmes RM. 2006. The role of recess in primary school. In D.Singer, R. Golinkoff, & K. Hirsh-Pasek (Eds.), Play=learning: How play motivates and enhances children's cognitive and socio-emotional growth. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pepler DJ and Ross HS. 1981. The effects of play on convergent and divergent problem solving. Child Development 52(4): 1202-1210.

Stevenson HW and Lee SY. 1990.Contexts of achievement: a study of American, Chinese, and Japanese children. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 55(1-2):1-123.

Wolfgang, Charles H.; Stannard, Laura L.; & Jones, Ithel. (2001). Block play performance among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15(2), 173-180.


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