As SmartStarters, we know that early learning and play are vital for children to develop. When children play, they build healthy brains and become more creative. Unfortunately, still too many parents do not understand how important good quality play is.

As experts of early learning, this year, we encourage all our SmartStarters to continue teaching communities and parents how important play is. We need to teach them that drawing, singing and painting are not just things children do for fun, but for learning.

What exactly do children learn when they play?

Some adults think that children are born able to control their emotions, or make decisions. But these are all skills that children need to learn. Play helps them to learn these skills.

When children play with other children, with a caregiver or by themselves they:

  • Develop their imagination
  • Learn how to work in groups, make rules, take turns and share
  • Create their own worlds, which develops their confidence

Two famous researchers, Dr. Bodrova and Dr. Leong, said that children who play have better memory and language skills. They also interact better with other children. All these skills prepare them for later success in school, career and life. In the long-term, this means more successful adults; that means less poverty and crime.

Most importantly, children use play as a form of language. Because young children do not know many words, they use play to communicate. When parents realise this and start to play with their children, they see the world through their children’s eyes. This helps parents to better understand and communicate with their children.

What happens when children do not play?

4.8 million children in South Africa are ready for early learning, but they are kept home without much stimulation or creative play. They enter a learning environment for the first time in Grade R and are not ready for school. Because of this more than half of our children will under-perform and struggle in school. If children find school hard and perform poorly in class they get demoralized, and this increases their risk of dropping out. Sadly it is the poorest 40% of schools where by Grade 4 only a few children are on track.

The role of the home

We need to encourage more parents to introduce early learning. If it is too expensive for them to send their children to an early learning centre, we can teach them to introduce early learning at home. This can be as simple as spending quality time playing with their children.

Parents are responsible for their child’s development and the home should always be a place of learning; where children can play, experiment, talk and interact. Children develop best when adults support their play. Parents and caregivers must tell stories, read books, and paint pictures with their children. These activities will help children learn more words and learn how to express themselves.

PLAY changes a child’s life

Early learning is not about teaching children schoolwork at a younger age. Early learning is about letting children do things like finger painting, singing songs, playing with toys, building with objects and listening to stories.

The right kind of play builds the early skills that every child needs. It helps them learn how to solve problems, conquer their fears, discover their interests and make their own decisions.

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