Learning through fun – the benefits of child’s play
Published on 20 June 2023
There’s more to a child’s play than merely having fun. It is a key opportunity in building resilient adults of the future.
In a result-oriented society like Singapore, most parents are focused on ensuring that their child’s learning journey is accelerated, even from a young age.
Cue enrichment classes, tuition, and a whole host of other learning activities that are geared towards developing their child’s mental development.
It might therefore surprise you to learn that one of the best ways for a child to learn is not by going for more classes, but rather, through play.
“As children grow older, most parents feel that engaging in play is a waste of their child’s time. They often feel that they do not learn anything from playing. The fact is, however, play and learning are not opposites,” said Ms Chiang Jing Jing, Senior Occupational Therapist at the Child Development Unit (CDU), Khoo Teck Puat – National University Children’s Medical Institute (KTP-NUCMI) at the National University Hospital (NUH).
Building resilience starts with play
Learning through play can be highly effective in building a child’s cognitive and social skills.
Play is also one of the safest times for a child to make mistakes. It teaches children to take risks, face challenges, and learn from failures in situations that do not have any serious consequences.
“When children play, they have opportunities to develop their emotional regulation, creativity, problem-solving ability and life skills. It also helps them to make sense of the world,” explained Ms Cheryl Ong, Senior Psychologist at the CDU, KTP-NUCMI.
While parents might instinctively want to protect their children from challenges in life, it is not always possible – nor emotionally healthy – for them to do so.
For children, such difficult experiences could include having a sibling, changing a helper, moving house, and attending a new school. The challenges, however, could also be more serious, such as having their parents go through a divorce, losing a family member, or being bullied.
One safe and effective way that parents can help their child build their resilience to cope with such difficult situations is through play.
Ms Ong explained, “Children who are resilient would be able to adapt quicker and recover better from any setbacks they face.”
“Resilient children are less likely to deal with challenges in unhealthy ways such as hurting themselves or others. They also tend not to avoid or run from their problems,” Ms Ong elaborated.
Guiding play as a parent
It is important to note that there is no right or wrong way for a child to play. What is crucial, however, is that parents give their child the freedom to make their play experience enjoyable.
This might mean having to hold your tongue when your child colours outside the lines, or resisting the urge to take over from them whenever they run into challenges during play.
“Directing the child to play in a way that it should be played reduces imagination, creativity and problem solving,” said Ms Chiang. “Parents can instead take the role of a coach and encourage their children to have a go at it themselves when they face a problem while playing.”
Resilience is not innate; it is built through experience
To help a child build resilience through play, there are three points parents should bear in mind:
- Be supportive and follow your child’s lead. Children develop in an environment of relationships. When parents observe their child at play, or join them in child-driven play, it tells the child that their parents are paying full attention to them.
- Give children choices. It is important to give your child time, freedom, and choice to play so that they can develop their creativity, leadership, and group skills. A parent can support and take part in their child’s play activities, but they should not dictate what happens.
- Let kids explore. When parents are too pushy and demonstrate everything before letting the child have a chance to try first, children can lose motivation and interest fast. If you let them try things out first, they can be more active in their exploration and be more joyful about discovering things on their own.
“Allow your child to take risks and build autonomy and independence while also providing gentle and nurturing guidance so that your child feels supported in their environment,” said Ms Ong.
“Don’t jump in too early to predict challenges or rescue your children from them. On the other hand, don’t add too many demands or leave them to become completely overwhelmed without support.”