How Do Children Learn Through Play? Everything You Need to Know!

image of a child playing with colourful wooden building blocks

Watching your little one at play might often look silly (albeit very entertaining!) or sometimes utterly pointless to the adult eye. But what grown-ups often consider pure amusement at best is incredibly substantial to your child’s development and has a big impact on their ability to learn, even far into their adult life!

Play matters more than some of us might think. Your child gets to explore the world and thereby grows a deeper understanding of their natural surroundings and their place in the world through something seemingly so simple as play.

So here’s why we should simply let the children play and how this helps them to become better learners.

What defines play?

It’s important to understand that true play only happens when children get to use their imagination, follow their own impulses, and be creative in their own unique way. Play can be indoor or outdoor and it can be with accessories, toys or without any gadgets at all.

Your little one can play by themselves or with other children, a caregiver, or other family members. There is no barrier to which situation children can use for play.

How does play influence a child’s development?

When children play, different areas of their development are triggered and enhanced immensely, depending on the types of play. Here are the main developments that are supported through your child playing:

Physical development

As your child engages in active play, games or sports, these will enhance gross motor skills, i.e. strengthen the nerve connections between their brains and bodies. These benefits happen throughout their bodies and will help them gain better control of their muscles and limbs.

A good example of physical development through play is the one of an infant and a toy. At first, the baby will try to tap the toy with its hands and fingers, maybe even slap it off the table because of its underdeveloped gross motor skills. After some time, however, they will try to grasp it and pick it up until they eventually bring it to their mouth to try and taste it.

Emotional development

Through role-play, children learn to deal with various situations in a playful manner, sometimes even conflict situations! Children use their fantasies to make sense of real-life situations and apply what they learn later in life.

Another example of how children’s play enhances emotional development is by learning to share a toy or take turns. This ultimately teaches the child a lesson in self-importance and to be less selfish and emotionally more resilient if things don’t directly go their way.

Cognitive development

Puzzles, games and strategic thinking when playing group games positively impacts your child’s cognitive skills. In turn, this influences problem-solving skills and determines how your child will respond to issues later on in life as an adult.

Also, as new neuron connections are formed in the brain during play, your little one’s ability to understand concepts and learn new skills is also enhanced.

Social and moral development

As stated above, learning to take turns and successfully interact with other children during play is probably one of the best lessons your little one can learn as early as possible.

Additionally, sticking to the rules of games and not cheating their way through them enhances their moral development, just like learning that there are consequences to stealing someone else’s toy.

How do children learn through play?

While busy having fun, young children develop vital life skills and enhance their cognitive skills through physical and imaginative play. All this happens while making sense of their surroundings and the people they interact with.

Similar to adults learning by studying through reading or taking classes, early childhood education often happens from a playful angle, either with role-play or with toys and other objects like interactive dolls.

Here’s a closer look into how young children’s learning works through the different types of play:

Physical play

As children engage in active play such as tag or hide and seek, their interaction with other children provides them with strong social skills. These skills develop while busy negotiating and communicating the strategies behind a game or standing up for themselves to older children. This will have a positive impact on their self-esteem as well.

On top of that, engaging in physical play positively impacts your child’s physical development and helps them to remain healthy. And we all know that a healthy body and healthy mind go hand in hand!

Role play and symbolic play

During role-playing, young children learn to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Doing this teaches them a great deal about empathy, learning to navigate emotions and how to express them. For instance, when playing with dolls prams or pushchairs, your child might imagine what it would feel like to be a parent.

This positively impacts their emotional skills and even language abilities. Symbolic play has similar effects on a child’s development as it stretches the imagination and helps to express their emotions and needs through symbolism and slipping into different roles.

The most important part of this form of play is that it remains without boundaries in order for children to enjoy free play and reap the full amount of learning benefits from it.


Games are a great way to introduce a young child to rules. Board games, as well as sports, follow certain rules and force children to take turns and communicate the rules of the game as well as a strategy during the game.

Surrogate play

This is a very interesting form of play where a child that is physically unable to play themselves actively uses a caregiver or friend to play out their imagination for them by either painting, playing with toys, or rearranging a room. Observing children will still feel stimulated and get to use their imagination.

FAQs about learning through play

Should I incorporate technology into play, and if so, how?

Since technology is so engrained into our daily life, it is important to incorporate it into your child’s learning at some stage. Using technology in moderation can be beneficial during play as it can enhance creativity and visual thinking.

Can children play too much?

Unless it is on a computer, smartphone, tablet or TV, there is technically no such thing as too much playtime!

As learning through play is a vital part of your child’s development, you should encourage it as much as you can. However, children also have to learn about boundaries in life. Unfortunately, not everything can be about fun and according to how they want their life to be. Setting time boundaries for playtime can be quite useful.

Make sure your child gets enough out of their play experiences before calling them inside for dinner.

What are the effects of reduced play in early childhood?

While there can’t be enough playtime, there is definitely such a thing as too little playtime. And following the pandemic lockdowns, a lot of parents and caregivers are currently bearing the brunt of the effects on their children of too little time spent playing with other children or outside.

Specifically for young children, this has a detrimental effect on their learning abilities and general development.

All of the life skills mentioned above can fall short if your child does not get to play them out enough during playtime. This is why play matters so much and why too little play can lead to isolation, impulsivity, and even depression in children.

Help your children learn through play with Play Like Mum

Playing positively impacts how your child perceives the world, understands their place in it, and makes the most of what they are being presented with.

Next time your little one wants to participate in an imaginary tea party or play hide and seek, remember the positive impacts it has on children’s learning instead of thinking of all the grown-up things you have to get on with instead. On top of that, playtime is a great way to bond with your child!

Why not purchase a toddler dolls pram and help your child learn by playing like mum? At Play Like Mum, we have a range of dolls prams and dolls pram accessories which are perfect for playing with! 

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