Albert Einstein reportedly said, “Play is the highest form of research”. So, we asked educators at eight learning centres to tell us their top reasons why play is so important in the early years of a child’s education, and to tell us about some of the play-based learning activities their students really enjoy.
“Play ignites curiosity and stimulates the natural, innate creativity of young children. Different type of play help to develop children’s cognitive and emotional growth. For example, educational toys like building blocks help children to learn about colours and shapes, and playing with items like dough helps them develop their touch senses and creativity. Also, play is fun! We know that when children have fun, they are much more likely to focus on what they are doing and learning.
“Magic Box is a favourite game in our Mum and Tots class (for children aged 18 to 33 months). The toddlers are eager to find out what’s inside the magic box. They use their hands to feel the objects to guess what’s inside. This activity not only arouses their curiosity but allows them to experience different textures, which is good for their sensory development.
“Our Foundation level students (aged five to eight years) enjoy ‘Spot the Difference’, usually played after learning the day’s key words or phrases. The teacher plays a song and when the music stops, she says a Mandarin phrase. Students must match the correct word cards (placed in various location in the classroom) to correspond with the phrase. The competitive game challenges them to remember what they have learnt but also have fun with their classmates.”
– Senior Teacher, Jessica Chen
“At Shaws, we believe in learning through play. Playing is what children do best – they are happy and engaged when they play. They are also learning – they learn about the world through real world experiences that make sense to them.
“Play activities build fine and gross motor skills. For example, building the little finger muscles needed for writing later on in life can be done through activities that involve hand-eye coordination and finger muscle skills, all while the children are having fun!
“Sensorial play is one of the favourite activities enjoyed in our toddler classrooms every day. Children love making a mess, and messy activities allow children to use all their senses, which stimulates various parts of the brain.
“Pretend play in a group is important because it nurtures so many skills. In the midst of setting up a restaurant, or dancing around in scarves and heels, children learn to solve problems, coordinate, co-operate, think flexibly and develop language skills. Imagine the skills required to turn the home corner into a fort that is being invaded by dinosaurs!”
– Liane Shaw, Director of Preschool
Six locations islandwide | shaws.com.sg
All Hands Together
“Play is a magical thing and is not to be underestimated. It’s often seen as a break from learning but in reality – especially in early childhood – play is where the most important learning takes place. Through play, young children learn to problem solve, think critically, gather perspective and share their imagination with others.
“It is through play that children develop skills for the future. For example, during simple role play games, a child imitates the tasks needed to cook a meal in the kitchen. Our educators understand that play is one of the avenues children use to explore, learn and gain new knowledge, we take this into consideration when designing the class curriculums.
“Our favourite activities include sensory and messy play, which is by far the favourite among the children. Outdoor play is important for building gross motor skills and, thirdly, dramatic play, when children accept and assign roles, and then act them out.”
– Kalyisah Khalid, Lead Teacher
Little Artists Art Studio
“Art involves focus and concentration, and at the same time is a form of fun, experimental learning. By nurturing a student’s skills we are at times unknowingly revealing hidden talents and raising their confidence. To play through art is to build motor skills and an eye for beauty.” – Senior Art Educator, Ms Rupam
“Play is essentially the nature of children, and our Fine Art programmes nurture young artists. Playing through art is a way to forge a fun and enjoyable learning environment. Children are curious to create – it’s how they begin to understand their world.” – Art Educator, Mr Don.
“Imagination is powerful. When combined with art, my students create tangible pieces of their dreams. Even their most playful dreams come alive through their drawings. Art is about happy memories too. Our students play through art in many ways, for example, when they paint their greatest passions, doodle on paper to express themselves and their ideas through images, and sculpt in clay as a therapeutic process.” – Senior Art Educator, Ms Sharmaine
Shaws Little League
“Play and, in particular, playing sport, helps to develop physical co-ordination, healthy brain development and emotional strength in children. We don’t tell the children about the benefits of playing sport but instead tell them to keep trying hard, listening and having fun.
“Three of their favourite activities are multisport activities, soccer and cricket. Uncomplicated games such as dodge ball and tug of war are also part of our programme – both of these games help to develop a healthy competitive spirit and teamwork skills.
“Our curriculum has had input from sports scientists, international athletes, sports coaches and experts in childcare. It’s based on participation, active engagement, simple instructions, getting children to think for themselves and lots of positive encouragement. We’ve developed a programme that is skills based, has tangible objectives and focuses on the holistic and behavioural development of every child.”
– Alpesh Puna, Director of Sport
Swallows and Amazons
“When children are fully immersed and engaged in an activity, they are absorbing meaning and understanding and thus finding reward in their actions. We encourage the children to take ownership of their play activity and ultimately of their learning. This lifetime learning habit depends not on the type of play, but on the quality.
“Whether it’s structured or unstructured, children learn so much from play. Structured play has a format, a set of rules and pre-determined objectives such as board games, assembling puzzles or Lego, and games such as ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf?’ and ‘Musical Chairs’, for example. Unstructured free play is open-ended. Some of the favourite activities call on children to use their imagination and creativity. Activities may include junk modelling using recycled material or painting/colouring on blank paper or block play.
Outdoors, children are free to invent their games. They can choose from outdoor equipment like hula hoops and footballs as well as the toy houses and trikes, or participate in activities like obstacle courses or playing counting games.”
– Jackie Barkham, Director
“Play is well known as children’s work. If an adult’s work is important, so is a child’s. It helps children develop qualities that build their character. They learn to overcome challenges, work cooperatively and, over time, develop awareness of others’ feelings to help resolve problems and negotiate with others while at play.
“Children learn through play. Play allows children to explore their world, be it their physical or social environment. Unleashing the creativity in them is another reason why play is important. Being creative enhances their language development, social competence, socio-emotional development, physical growth, as well as their thinking skills.
“Children love art and sensory activities, outdoor play and pretend play. They develop holistically while participating in realistic and creative activities. White Lodge encourages imagination and provides an environment to stimulate, inspire and enlighten children. We provide a diverse range of materials to help children learn such as blocks, props for dramatic play, books, puzzles, water, sand, outdoor equipment, cooking facilities and painting areas.”
– Jayne Nadarajoo, Founding Director
Nexus International School
“While the mess and the noise that comes with play might put some adults off, preschool teachers at Nexus believe that being adventurous and braving the muddy waters (sometimes literally) is a great part of the early learning experience.
“A play-based approach to learning enables children to explore, inquire, take risks and create meaning in an authentic way. When playing with their peers, children learn to build secure relationships, to self-regulate, resolve conflicts and negotiate. They show empathy and begin to understand the needs and feelings of those around them.
“Physically active play also tests and develops motor skills. Try using open-ended materials such as sand, leaves or even building blocks. These invite children to be creative in their thinking and enable them to act out both real-life and imagined experiences. They also encourage children to explore different concepts and problem-solve as they play.”
– Lisa Cheyne, Nursery and Kindergarten Phase Leader, and Paul Beach, Head of Primary School
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about the types of curriculums found in Singapore’s international schools.