How kids learn: A child’s playtime is also learning time

By Cara Johnson-Bader

When children are playing, there’s more going on than meets the eye. Your little one is engaged in learning and brain development. Through play, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers try out new skills, explore their imagination and creativity, enrich their emotional development, cultivate language skills, foster problem-solving skills, and so much more.
As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher and playmate. Here are a few tips to make playtime learning time.
Play builds imagination and creativity. When your child builds with blocks, plays with Play-Doh, or creates a masterpiece with arts and crafts materials, they are developing vital creativity skills. Join in on the fun and build a fort, create a city with blocks, or paint together. Encourage your child to use his imagination as you play and learn together.
Play supports cognitive development. Ninety percent of a child’s brain develops by age 5 and play is an essential component of making that happen. Paying attention, figuring out how things work, learning how to make decisions are just a few of the cognitive skills that your little one will develop through play. Provide your little one with opportunities to explore objects, like floor mirrors, pop-up toys, push cars, board games, and puzzles. These play opportunities will result in the development of foundational cognitive skills.
Play aids the development of physical skills. Active play is vital for your child’s physical development. Crawling, rolling over, walking, climbing on the jungle gym, or hopping like a bunny are just a few of the activities that help your little one acquire skills such as coordination, balance, large motor skills, and fine motor skills. Find ways to get active with your little one – not only is it fun but you are helping with brain development.
Play encourages communication. Play provides your child with an opportunity to develop speech and language skills and expand her listening skills. Whether you are making animals with Play-Doh, pretending to be a customer in your child’s make-believe restaurant, or playing peek-a-boo, talk about what you are doing, ask questions, and engage in conversations. Doing so will help your child foster important communication and listening skills.
Play promotes social and emotional development. Through play, your child develops critical social skills, such as cooperation, compromise, recognizing and responding to other’s feelings, resolving conflict, and learning how to navigate interacting with others.
The benefits of play are endless, so find ways to play with your little one. Not only will you have fun but will help them learn important lifelong skills.
“Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers

Cara Johnson-Bader is the Vice President of Marketing and Parent Experiences at New Horizon Academy and mother of two young boys. Learn more about New Horizon Academy at

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