The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Education Programming

Integrating free play time into your early childhood education programming is beneficial not only for children’s development, but for improving performance in academic activities as well.

Unfortunately, the importance of play in early childhood education programming is often undervalued in favor of direct instruction. Still, building play into your curriculum is important, as it is a healthy part of childhood development. Play can have a large impact on development in many areas, including social skills, language skills, and cognitive development of preschoolers.

When children play, they draw on their past experiences – things they have seen adults do, what they have seen on television or have read about – to create games and scenarios. Free, open-ended play offers a satisfying experience for children, allowing them to explore and discover, while at the same time developing their imagination and thinking skills.

Social Development

Playing with other children is a critical part of building social skills at an early stage. In the first years of their lives, a child’s playmates will most commonly be their parents. Later, by interacting with children of the same age, kids begin to understand how to get along with others, share, and be kind rather than selfish. Learning to adjust their own play behavior to those of their peers is an essential social skill that is most effective if taught early on.

Language Skills

Through play, children create and re-create stories. Dramatic play is one of the best ways to foster a child’s language skills, as they use (and break) the rules of conversation, act and speak differently as they play various roles, and use communication skills to guide their storyline. Literacy and language skills can be further developed through play by introducing language-rich elements into play, such as the creation of shopping lists, restaurant menus, or by playing school.

Cognitive Development

Play encourages children to learn, imagine and solve problems while stimulating brain development. Placing an importance on play in early childhood education can help the brain create critical neural connections. Rapid learning occurs in the first few years of a child’s life, and through play, they learn essential life lessons like cause and effect, problem solving, trial and error, symbolic thinking and more.

Since play is rapidly disappearing in favour of more structured lessons, it is up to child care providers to realize the importance of play in early childhood education programming. Integrating free play time into your child care center’s daily schedule is beneficial for not only the child’s development but will have the added benefit of improving performance in academic activities as well.

Ron Spreeuwenberg

Ron is the Co-Founder & CEO of HiMama, where he leads all aspects of a social purpose business that helps early childhood educators improve learning outcomes for children.


  • Emily Walker says:

    This is a really good article and explains perfectly why play should be a part of early childhood education. These days you see recess and art becoming less and less in schools. Making sure that every student is meeting their state curriculum needs is what teachers are focused on. Play time is much more beneficial for children than the curriculum they need to know. Some of the curriculum they need to know they will learn through play. There are a ton of benefits to play some of them are mentioned above in the article. Taking play time away from children is not in the best interest of children. If we don’t do something about this then we aren’t doing our job in advocating for what’s best for every child. We also aren’t doing our best in meeting the needs of our children in the areas of children’s development and learning, helping children to play and work cooperatively. Which is why we need to take a stand and make sure that every early childhood center is giving children time to play.

  • salim says:

    A vital aspect of developing social skills at a preliminary phase is playing with other kids. The playmates of a child would most usually be their family in the first years of their lives. Then, children are learning how to get along, share, and be kind rather than greedy by engaging with kids of the same age. Learning to adapt their own playing actions to those of their peers is an important social skill that, if learned early on, is most successful. Excellent post.

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