How All Children Learn Through Play

We’ve been reading a lot about play recently, and have started using games in our mindfulness videos. With so much conversation around the benefits of play, we thought we’d share some of the research and ideas we’ve stumbled across…


As the pressure on parents mounts to prepare children for nursery, preschool and beyond, the role of simple play in their development has been given significantly less importance. Recent research suggests that play is an integral part of a child’s development, helping build a range of vital social, cognitive and emotional skills.

Learning through play is thought to be so important in fact, that Cambridge University last year recruited a ‘LEGO Professor’ to focus on play in education and further studies into this vital part of our early years, in partnership with The LEGO Foundation. The new research centre’s acting director, Dr David Whitebread has already looked into this area of development, seeing the significant issues experienced as a result of a lack of play and even suggesting school education should be delayed in favour of allowing children to learn through ‘physical, constructional and social play’. 

Learning Through Play

Interestingly, in Finland the education system works entirely around this school of thought, with children delaying traditional school education until the age of 7 in favour of a different type of learning experience. The aim of any form of learning in these early years revolves around children becoming happy, confident kids, learning important social skills and how to interact with other children and their teachers. The main focus of this is both monitored and free play, allowing children to explore and learn through fun. As Finland’s education system ranks amongst the best in the world, it poses the question about whether more countries should be taking this alternative approach to early learning.

With all this in mind, how can we help our little ones learn through play at home? We’ve come up with some ideas for play with learning in mind…

Free Play – The Great Outdoors
Children have a natural ability to free play, without any commercial toy or game needed. One way to create opportunity for this type of play is by going for a long walk. The child selects their ‘toys’ themselves, which might be leaves, pine cones, sticks or even a nook in a tree, and their imagination does the rest. It’s easy to forget that even through activities like this, children are learning about the world around them and themselves too.Learning Through Play

Play to Develop Senses – Listening
Young children are learning all about the world around them and how they interact with it, and games showing them how to use their senses only helps with this important part of their development. As part of our Zen Den series we have a number of videos designed specifically to help children learn through games.  The latest Zen Den episode is a game teaching children how to use their listening skills, helping them learn that it isn’t always easy to listen, but by practicing we can become very good at it! 

Indoor Activities – Colour by Numbers
Every child loves colouring for fun, and this activity includes the additional element of recognising different numbers. Draw a big butterfly with patterned wings. Number the different parts of the picture from 1 to 3 and give your child three different coloured pencils, writing down a number for each colour. Depending on the age of the child you can add more or less pencils and numbers. By matching each colour to a number, at the end they’ll not only have followed the activity, they’ll also have enjoyed some time out by colouring.Learning Through Play

Have you tried learning through play at home? We’d love to hear the ways you and your little ones have learnt through games!