‘Play is for life, but children whose play flows from birth onwards…are using their childhood as a lifelong resource, rather than something they grow out of and lose.’
Tina Bruce, 2015
Play as a form of learning is an essential part of childhood and has been highlighted as a basic right in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. If play is nurtured, it can support children in all areas of development and offer holistic learning experiences. Throughout childhood, play is one of the fundamental ways children explore, investigate and make sense of the world around them, attempting new skills and broadening existing knowledge as well as rehearsing past, present and future events.
‘Grown-ups think of play as a purposeless occupation that keeps children happy and out of mischief, but actually when children are left to play by themselves very little of their activity is purposeless.’
Maria Montessori Speaks to Parents,
Montessori notably valued the importance of play for learning, believing that children have an innate drive to explore and learn from their environment and acknowledged play as the ideal way to provide that opportunity. With the favourable environment offering opportunities for movement, sensory exploration and hands on experiences, Montessori observed rapid development of children’s knowledge and understanding of the world around them.
Vygotsky also advocated the power of play, believing that play forms its own ‘zone of proximal development’, as through play children are able to independently extend and challenge themselves, using their imagination and creativity to think in more complex ways. From birth, play is one of the main ways children absorb all the new information they come across daily; from both educational and scientific perspectives, play is identified as having a vital role on cognitive development. The open-ended nature of play supports children’s individual play agendas, whilst the explorative characteristic offers learning without pressure, allowing for repetition and experimentation at the child’s own pace.
‘Play can have a life of its own because it belongs to the private worlds of children.’
Elizabeth Wood, 2013
The flexible and adaptable nature of play supports all children by following the individual child however, not all play styles will be suitable for all children; some children may prefer rough-and-tumble play whilst others may prefer solitary play or co-operative fantasy play. For adults caring for children, understanding the key play opportunities for each child can offer invaluable learning opportunities. With children independently exploring through play, it offers a valuable chance for adults to observe and interpret the play activities.
‘Slowing down enough to watch how children spend their time…is a necessary beginning.’
Alison Clark and Peter Moss, 2011
Adult involvement in play is instrumental in building and extending children’s learning as well as fostering sustained shared thinking. However, a key aspect of adult involvement in play is following the child’s play rather than imposing the adult’s own agenda on the play. Montessori advocated that adults caring for children should resource the environment to allow play to develop naturally and flourish independently.
In harmony with the key concepts of play, the Montessori environment provides playful learning experiences through unique aspects of the Montessori approach. Independence, non-interference and the child-led environment provide significant opportunities for playful learning. Elements such as freedom of choice, repetition, exploration, active hands-on experiences and peer-to-peer learning highlight a strong symbiosis between Montessori education and play-based learning.
‘There is good support for Montessori’s education style of playful learning for assisting human development.’
Angeline S. Lillard, 2013