- Children have a right to play.
- Play, both indoors and outdoors, makes a powerful contribution to children’s wellbeing, development and learning.
- In play children can become deeply involved as they take things they already know and combine them in new ways so that their understanding deepens.
- Children choose to play, and are in charge of their play.
- Having freedom and time to play in an appropriately stimulating and resourced environment which is finely tuned for babies, toddlers and young children supports development and learning across all areas.
- Adults must have a deep understanding of how play of different types supports children to develop and learn, and be able to discuss this with parents.
Children have a right to play. Children’s right to play is recognised as so vital to their wellbeing and development that it is included in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (1989). Play both indoors and outdoors is also a fundamental commitment to children throughout the EYFS.
Play, both indoors and outdoors, makes a powerful contribution to children’s wellbeing, development and learning. Children play, not least because it is often fun and offers a joyful opportunity for engaging in many different activities and being with others. As they play children immerse themselves in what most interests them, and in the process find out about themselves, other people, and the world around them. Because play is open-ended and flexible, children can explore and experiment with confidence, take risks and challenge themselves at the limits of their capabilities, without fear of failure.
In play children can become deeply involved as they take things they already know and combine them in new ways so that their understanding deepens. They may build on existing learning, through interaction with a quality environment and open-ended resources, or alongside a playful adult. In transforming their stock of knowledge into new connections and applications, children develop mastery of concepts. They embed skills and knowledge, explore and experiment with ideas and new ways of thinking, support their own creativity and develop their individual dispositions.
In an enabling environment, children choose to play, and are in charge of their play – what to do, what to use, what it is about, whether to play alone or with someone else, how long to play. They experience autonomy and can develop confidence in their own agency through their ability to make choices and take responsibility.
Having freedom and time to play in an appropriately stimulating and resourced environment which is finely tuned for babies, toddlers and young children supports development and learning across all areas. Outdoor spaces particularly provide rich opportunities for sharing ideas and feelings with peers. Playing with others, such as an interested adult who participates without directing the play or with other children, is likely to foster and extend learning. Playing together often introduces new elements of play, as well as bringing the challenge of communicating ideas to each other.
Adults must have a deep understanding of how play of different types supports children to develop and learn, and be able to discuss this with parents. Research has identified many different types of play, enabling practitioners to understand the choices children are making and how best to support their thinking. Children may be pursuing different purposes in sensory play, exploratory play with objects, schematic play, symbolic play, pretend play (alone, in role or with small world objects), cooperative role play with others, fantasy and superhero play, physical play, rough and tumble play, risky play, or digital play. As each of these supports children’s development and learning in different ways, early years provision should ensure that opportunities are available for all types of play. Through observing and reflecting on children’s play, adults can gain insights into the child’s purposes and how best to support them.
Because play is spontaneous, flexible, and unique to each child, settings can find it challenging to support play and advocate for play. It is essential for practitioners to gain insights from play’s unique ability to show children’s dispositions to learn. Settings must also know and understand each family’s individual, cultural approaches to play in order to support meaningful experiences which are inclusive of all.
Play, while central, is not the only way in which children develop and learn in the early years. Children also have opportunities to learn through first-hand experiences of all sorts, alongside being shown how to do things, having conversations, and taking part in activities which are planned by adults to introduce or practise particular skills. Such adult-led activities are not play but they are most effective when they use some of the features of play to engage and motivate children, by ensuring that they are playful – with elements of choice, hands-on experience, connections to children’s interests, and enjoyment.