Why is child initiated play important for children’s learning?
Child-initiated play supports children in having ideas and being in control of their learning. It enables them to learn through first-hand experiences, allowing them to choose how to use the resources to do so. Child-led activities may start out as an adult initiated activity however by allowing the child space and time; the child may extend the resources and ideas given to create their own experience. It is important to strike a balance between adult led and child initiated activities to meet best the children’s outcomes.
It is suggested that adult led, and child initiated play should take up a third of play each. The other third of time should be used for adults to build on child-initiated activities, to extend further learning opportunities and enable sustained shared thinking to take place. This is supported by the characteristics of effective learning; encouraging the way in which children learn.
The adult’s role in child initiated play
Adults play an important role in child initiated play. They provide a safe environment for the child to explore and test out their ideas. Adults may use the child’s interests or next steps to develop play through offering a breadth of opportunities or resources for the child to use in a variety of ways. It is important for the adult to understand the needs of the child and work towards providing opportunities for child-initiated play. This can be achieved through observations and building a solid relationship with the child, in order to learn about their likes and dislikes.
The environment is a vital factor in supporting child led play. Creating areas to meet the different needs of play can enable children to participate in child initiated activities and use the space to build on their ideas and experiences. Quiet areas allow children to observe others and gives them time and space to reflect on their learning. The environment should encourage investigation and exploration to take place. This supports children in thinking of ideas and alternative ways to build on activities.
The outdoor environment is a great way to nurture the minds of children and encourage child led play. The large open spaces and the breadth of natural resources enable children to use their imagination and problem-solving skills to develop their play. Adult initiated play can offer opportunities for the children to think of alternative ways to access activities and build on what they have learnt to create a wider learning experience. Mud kitchens are a fun way of enabling the children to have ownership of their play and experiences.