Why play is the best way to learn
Building your child’s brain into a metropolis
Imagine you have an area of bare land, with a few paths, and you want to build a city. If you grew up playing SimCity, this will be easy!
Hopefully, you are in an area with a lot of access to resources. They will start flooding in and you can start paving the paths, building new paths, and turning the most important ones into roads and highways.
You start to build up areas that the roads are connected to, filling them with people, knowledge, and innovation. Soon your city will start to produce new and amazing things, ready to export to other cities.
Building a strong brain for learning
This is what a child’s brain is like. They are born with a few pathways established in-utero, but as soon as they enter the world, they are flooded with information and resources to build their brain into a thriving interconnected city. It’s why the early years are so important. Laying down good infrastructure early can speed up the flow of information when it all gets busier, and prevent traffic jams at rush hour!
The best infrastructure is built by multi-sensory input – when something is experienced by more than one of the senses – and particularly involving touch. Each of the senses is registered in a different area of the brain, so an experience which is lighting up and connecting areas all over the brain is building a strong web of connections that can be built upon later.
The science of child’s play
It’s what make play so important. Play is your child exploring their own Brain City. They practice using the roads and finding their way. More importantly, it gives them the chance to find shortcuts, and create new faster connections. The can try connecting things that weren’t connected before.
The more a neuron pathway is used within the brain, the stronger it gets, as it becomes coated with an insulating layer called myelin sheath – so next time, it’s faster and more automatic, leaving more energy to create more new paths!
Diagram of a brain cell, showing the myelin sheath coating the axon (pathway through the brain). More layers of myelin sheath develop the more a path is followed, increasing speed and efficiency.
Play is like Aladdin jumping over rooftops and swinging from bars to find new paths (and escape routes). It might not always be the prettiest, or even best way – that’s the point. The more chances kids have to try different ways, and look at things from different perspectives, the faster and faster they will get, and the further they can go.
The secret sauce for great play
The key requirements for good play are time, and freedom. Kids know what they need to be learning. A baby will practise until they can grasp, until they can roll, until they can crawl, run, talk, jump. No one needs to tell them. They intrinsically know what they need to be doing, and they do it in their own time.
It’s just the same when they get a bit older. Play allows kids to practise and master what THEY need to. At their own pace, unpressured. It allows them to work through and practise what they have seen, learned and experienced around them. It helps them to develop social and emotional skills alongside others.
School holidays are a great time to allow unstructured play to happen. To follow an idea to completion allows all those connections to form. It also develops the vital skill of being able to sustain attention on a task.
We need to provide freedom and encouragement to try new things, as part of growing. It’s all part of developing resilience, another vital skill. It’s the ability to not give up, and to see a “failure” just as a discovery of a way that didn’t work – and therefore a success!
Interested in learning more?