Five Ways Children Learn Through Play

There is more to playing than meets the eye. Children learn a lot while they play, and it is important to give your children the space to observe and interact with things on their own terms. This leads to many discoveries and helps to develop their understanding of how things work.

Some people believe that fun is frivolous, and that it detracts from learning, when in fact there is so much to be learned through playing that is valuable to a child’s development.

Play helps children to make sense of the world around them in various different ways. We caught up with to take a look at five ways play helps children to learn.

Problem solving

When children are playing, they learn to experiment when they come across a difficulty, and they eventually reach their own solutions.

The frustration of trying to solve a problem is important, and when we show children how something is done, we take away the joy of discovery that comes with figuring it out for themselves. Guiding is sometimes helpful, but providing a complete solution is detrimental to the learning process as it prevents them being able to think of their own innovative ideas.


Children learn to self-regulate their thoughts, emotions, and behaviour by observing adults self-regulating, and also through playing with other children.

When children play together they learn how they must act within a group to reach a common goal. It helps them to understand things like conflict resolution and negotiating, and how to control their impulses.

Self-regulation is something that children learn from observing how adults effectively manage their own feelings and behaviour. Children then gradually learn over time to control their own.

They do this by being exposed to manageable levels of stress, such as having to wait their turn when playing with other children, or learning to not grab a toy that they want to play with from another child. Adults can help explain to children why these things are important, and then remind them when appropriate.

Social skills

Things like sharing, taking turns, compromising, and negotiation are skills that are developed through play as a child. Leadership is also something that is often learned through play, whether it be taking the lead or following instruction.

Children also learn self-confidence, due to feeling pride in their accomplishments and learning new skills. They are also able to compare their own accomplishments to others, which promotes ambition.

Playing with others also helps children recognise when to be kind to others, or look after them. Empathy is a very complex skill to learn, as it combines recognising the thoughts or feelings of others as different to their own, and recognising a situation and the appropriate response. Often children will notice how adults show empathy to others, and then mimic that when playing with other children.

Scientific and mathematical understanding

Children can develop a deep understanding of the scientific and mathematical principles of the world through play. For example, young children tend to want to manipulate objects, even as babies. They learn to sort, measure, compare, and classify objects in order to understand how they do or don’t work together.

By giving them toys such as blocks, sand, Play-Doh and other toys that allow them to do this and leaving them to discover on their own, without intervention, you can allow them to form a deep understanding of processes.

For example, playing with blocks helps children to learn about balance, and playing with toys in the bath will learn what does and doesn’t float.


When children play, they learn to come up with creative solutions to things in many different ways. Whether it’s through one of the mini physics experiments previously mentioned, or the simple act of deciding what activity they would like to do when they find themselves bored, children who are allowed to play are given the opportunity to find their own answers to problems.

Children are able to learn a great number of skills essential for their ongoing development during play time, and adults can help the process by providing the correct environments for this type of learning to take place, and placing value on play.


featured image from flickr – by Katia Shrieck

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