Play is one of the main mechanisms through which children and young people learn about the world around them.  Both natural and instinctive, play enables children to test their own abilities and to learn and develop new skills and knowledge.  As such play has a critical role within schools – offering both an outlet for expending energy during break and lunch-times and as a means of contributing to learning through the curriculum.

Examples of how play can help to reinforce curricular learning include:

  • Numeracy: Through play children explore mathematical concepts including the differing size, shape and weight of objects; through water play the volume of objects and water displacement and enhance their understanding of numbers by counting as part of traditional games.
  • Literacy: Play offers children an opportunity to communicate with others (both other children and adults) in ways that are usually not available to them, for example through imaginary play.  As such play enhances language development skills and support increased levels of literacy.
  • Science: From the moment we are born we are scientists – exploring, experimenting, observing, testing, verifying our assumptions and making new discoveries about the world around us.  Coincidentally these approaches are all key elements of play!
  • Geography and the natural environment: Play in outdoor natural environments offers a multitude of opportunities to learn about geography and the world around them.  From interacting with the natural environment – mud, trees, grass, stones – to searching for flora and fauna play can enhance and build on traditional classroom approaches to learning.
  • Health and Well-being: Play is the most natural and instinctive way for children to develop and maintain good health and well-being.  Through physical play children can build active and healthy bodies, reducing obesity and helping to establish life-long physical activity patterns.  Play also actively contributes to healthy brain development, enhances learning capacity and supports resilience.
  • Risk assessment and management: When given the opportunity through innovative and challenging play children are able to test out and challenge their abilities in a natural way, enhancing their capacity to assess and manage risk as they develop.
  • Connecting with others: All children have a desire to play and, when given the opportunity to come together with children from other community and ethnic backgrounds through play, are able to develop social connections and develop positive relations.

Given the importance of play to learning, PlayBoard have developed Positive PlayGrounds – a school’s based programme that has been delivered in over 250 Primary Schools across Northern Ireland.  The programme supports teaching and non-teaching staff to create playful environments which make the most of school grounds and enhance play opportunities.  To find out more click here