The importance of play is often overlooked, but not only does structured play provide an excellent platform for learning but it establishes bonds, develops communication, active learning skills and allows children to explore the world around them through experimentation, asking questions and observing outcomes.

The importance of play is highlighted in its role of underpinning the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS) further emphasising the importance of the adults’ role to provide safe, challenging environments to facilitate, support and extend learning opportunities.

Parents are a child’s first educator, with research showing that babies are pre-programmed to respond to their parent’s voices and faces. Simple games that babies love, such as peek-a-boo, therefore enable them to acquire new skills and further their understanding of the world around them in a secure environment.

Young children learn very quickly and because learning can be made fun, become absorbed in these activities, therefore, developing their ability to concentrate. Through this they gradually build up a sense of their own identity and an understanding of their abilities. Understanding children’s development stages is key for developing learning through play, as resources and opportunities need to be age-appropriate and achievable.

Play should be open-ended, and children should be encouraged to not be afraid of making mistakes as this is all part of the learning journey. Children learn best in a warm and caring environment, where adults take an interest in their wellbeing and value their achievements. Many Early Years Year’s settings will assign a key worker to be that significant person to the child.

Key workers discuss the child’s achievements with their family and guide families on a programme of next steps for learning.

Following the EYFS framework learning areas, nursery environments are designed to encourage both independent exploration and adult-led activities, which support the teaching of new skills and child understanding.

Nursery environments are often structured into the following areas:

• The Role Play Area – allowing the children to explore roles, relationships and skills in context i.e. a shop keeper counting money, adding totals and working out change.
• The Construction Area – encouraging children to develop mathematical and design skills as well as collaboration and negotiation skills.
• Sand and Water Play Area – teaches about volume, capacity and displacement.
• The Art Area – boosts creative expression and provides an excellent means for children to express their feelings and emotion in a constructive output.
• The Music Area – songs and rhymes provide an opportunity to expand a child’s vocabulary and sense of rhythm.
• The Outdoor Area – the role of outdoor play should not be underestimated, offering a sense of freedom and adventure.

The Department for Education offers a guide for parents outlining the different stages of a child’s development called “What to expect when?” guide.