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why is play important

Why is play important to children’s learning and development?

Play is a natural and universal impulse in childhood. It’s essential in supporting children’s physical and emotional well-being, growth, learning and development. Through play, children explore the world around them and learn to take responsibility for their own choices.

It is so important that in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child it states “that every child has the right to play”.


Children’s holistic learning and development:

The Waldorf perspective

In Waldorf Education, some teachers might describe 12 senses, the senses which relate to the perception of the body (touch, life, movement and balance), those relating to the external world (smell, taste, sight, temperature) and the knowledge world (hearing, speech, thought, ego). The concept was that the children in the first seven years are building these senses in the body, of touch, life, movement and balance – and that without fully grasping them the child would not move on to the next stage readily (which in a Waldorf School would be classroom learning).

So what do children need to do in order to master touch, life movement and balance?


Will, feeling, thought

The first four physical senses used to perceive one’s own body are governed by the child’s will. The will of the child at this age of under 7 is largely driven by this impulse to ‘play’ as we would call it but really a better word would be ‘discover’. 

The middle four senses are the senses of feeling. Observations made with these senses arouse feelings and the last four senses focus particularly on knowledge, and they are used in the observation of other people and governed by thought.


Montessori perspective

“Play is the work of the child”, Maria Montessori. Our state and mainstream education is based foundationally on the research and writing of Maria Montessori, she was, in her time, nothing short of revolutionary. There are also Montessori schools that focus fully on her teaching methods. 


Influences on children’s learning and development

In the early years, there was a little overlap between the Montessori method and the Waldorf approach – that play is essential. Montessori asserts that play should be voluntary, enjoyable, purposeful and spontaneous and that play should come from the child’s own imagination and experiences.


The benefits of play

The benefits of play are vast, and when we consider the impact over a child’s lifetime and into adulthood we can understand it as nothing short of seminal. The Waldorf Family creates learning tools that engage hands, hearts and minds and balances functional utility, spiritual function, artistic design and sustainability.

Play facilitates children to:

  • build strength, coordination and balance 
  • develop confidence and self-esteem
  • develop problem-solving skills, social skills, language skills and physical skills
  • make sense of difficulties in their life
  • expand their creativity by engaging in imaginative play

Browse our Waldorf Family collections, all our products are eco-friendly and are designed to encourage unhurried play and delight in discovery. 


If play is the work of the child, toys are the tools 

Through toys, children learn about their world, themselves, and others. Open-ended toys teach children to: 

  • figure out how things work 
  • pick up new ideas 
  • build muscle control and strength 
  • use their imagination 
  • solve problems 
  • learn to cooperate with others 

Steiner wrote about dolls in one talk on childhood, saying that a doll that does everything robs the child of the chance of imagination, better to have a planer doll that the child can imagine as many things. This thought can be expanded to our modern world when we think about childhood today. 

Games and toys that are presented to children are often tightly structured. Think about video games, you can choose a character, not invent one, you can choose a battle, not invent an adventure. These are not open-ended exercises of the imagination, nor are they physical adventures in play to develop the body and mind. They are in fact sedentary, passive forms of entertainment which in childhood removes the chance for natural development which can be found in play.

It’s important to protect play. Play matters.

Additional reading: If you want help focusing on seasonal activities, read our short blog Getting to work with Summer.
Alternatively, get in touch – we’d love to hear your thoughts. 

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