Let’s focus on the importance of play and brain development in the early years.

There is a constant battle over what the best learning environment for young children looks like. I encourage you to look into how a child’s brain and body develops and ask yourself, what environment would be best suited to optimise a child’s development? For example, should young children sit at desks or is it an investigative play-based learning environment that is best suited to their development? And, once you answer that question, ask yourself another one, what age up to should they be in this environment? I have come across many children who have been provided with limited opportunities to explore and play in an effective play-based environment in the early years and as a result, gaps in their learning have emerged, but only identified when they are older when brain connections have been made. It is more effective to make the ‘right’ brain connections in the first place, than try to re-form new connections, although this can be done.

To put simply, without the appropriate play environment a child will not develop and grow to their full potential. We were born to play. Children are born with a natural instinct and curiosity to play, but we need an effective learning environment to stimulate it. Play is essential to every area of a child’s growth and development. A child’s intelligence may carry as much as 20-40 points as a result of environmental stimulation or lack of stimulation (Hunt, 1961). This is huge! Why? It is through play that children develop the core domains (underlying skills) to learn basic concepts required in literacy and numeracy.

No stimulation leads to no elaboration of neurological structure (brain) and processes, while pushing brain maturation (overstimulation) leads to overdevelopment and later deficits in behavior. (Lipton,1974). The constant ‘pruning’ of the brain circuits that are not used, such as in a poorly created learning environment, highlights the concept of importance of developmental windows or crucial periods of brain development in the early years. An appropriately set up play-based environment, provides the best opportunities for a child’s future success in learning.

If you are keen to understand how a child’s brain develops and how you can create a high quality play environment, join me at the next PD’s on Understanding the Amazing Brain or Play-Based Learning Environments.

Natalie Nicholls
BEd.PGDipSpLD.DipNeuroPsych.MEdCogPsych (completing)
Education Consultant, specialising in learning and learning difficulties.