Little Beehive Nursery

Play, the foundations of education.

17th May 2019

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In this blog, I take a look at play and how important it is in early education. At the nurseries we promote it and we want parents/carers to be aware of how important play can be in establishing the best foundations for your child's future. 

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Sandra Davidson

Head Of Child Development

The Foundation of Education.

Parents/carers are a child’s first educators and have a crucial role to play in encouraging their development and behaviour. Supporting children to grow up in a rich home learning environment, providing secure boundaries and guidance and offering emotional stability from the first days of life is fundamental to holistic child development.

The longer I am in my job, the more I work with individual parent/carers, I have come to realise the overwhelming importance of play in early years. When I reflect back to my own childhood(which was some time ago!) some of the happiest and most powerful memories are the hours I spent lost in play either with one of my six siblings, with friends or often even alone. I remember time appeared to lose any meaning and the resources I played with took on a life that made them as real as I was. As a child, you have the astonishing power to become a superhero, run a zoo, look after a farm and give voices and personalities to animals, dolls, teddies and so on…

We have to be mindful these play times are enormously important to children’s development, through play, they develop their imaginations, learn to share, learn to negotiate, learn how to be in charge and how to let others be in charge. Play teaches children to develop empathy and sympathy, play also allows children to make mistakes and teaches them to sort things out when they go wrong. Play gives children a chance to practice skills they can transfer to the real world.

Sadly within my role, I do come across children who have not learnt to play properly. It’s a strange concept I know. However, I do see children who are placed into a play based environment struggle to interact with other children due to their lack of experience and understanding of “play” something that we presume all children have a natural understanding of. There could be many contributing factors to why this may be. However, I believe the main cause is lack of opportunity to play and support from the parent or carer, and instead, play is being replaced with TV and Tablets.

If children are not brought up on play, they may lack vital skills when introduced to play based environments such as nursery and the playground. When children struggle with something, it usually comes out in poor behaviour. Something I see all too often in the nurseries are children who are unsure or unable to join in with play and subsequently misbehaving or become emotional as a way to interact with others. Instead of through conventional means. 

The importance of play

What is play?

 “What is play?” seems like such an obvious question with an obvious answer, but is it that simple? Well…Yes and no. On the face of it, play is the act of doing something for fun and has no serious or practical purpose, this might be right technically… but underneath play is a very serious AND practical learning tool that should be nurtured and turned into the foundations of your child's educational journey.

Play underpins education and all aspects of the children's development. Through play, children develop a whole range of skills from Language and communication, to Problem-solving and conflict resolution. I can remember falling out with my friends and somehow, through communication we would be best friend again by the next day, or trying to figure out how to create a car out of boxes my mum had the new oven delivered in. All of these moments have helped me in some way, making me understand how to communicate, how to problem solve, and so much more. So yes, play is the act of doing something for fun, but it shouldn’t be passed off as something that doesn't have a serious or practical purpose because that is not the case! We LOVE play!

Starting off Play

This is the part that comes most natural to me (maybe I still haven’t grown up!). To start with get the child excited and intrigued, this is where you’re panto skills will come in handy, for example, “shall we have some play time now?”. Be sure to let the child. decide, although we want to nurture and inspire play, we don’t want to force play onto the child so always use words like “shall we”, “is it time to play” or “what can we do today?” let the child take lead and bring  you on their journey.

Ensure that you are always ready to support their play is always helps to have age-appropriate resources that your child has a particular interest in, we don’t want to force play with toys that don't inspire the child. However, children have a fantastic ability to be inspired by almost everything and turn anything into a game, some of my fondest memories as a child are creating games with my brothers and sisters out of as little as a cardboard box!

(Did you know that the cardboard box is in the “Toy Hall of fame”

 Ensure that you, the parent or carer, are ready to get down on the floor and start playing! You can be the greatest asset to a child's play, don’t feel bad if the child makes you the villain in their games, they have invited you into their very private world of their imagination, and you should play whatever role they give you to the best of your ability! If you are not used to playing you may find this embarrassing or even a little bit strange, but don’t worry about it, it will all be worth it when you see your child's imagination come to light with your support (and fantastic acting…!)

Let the Child be in Charge

 You may have to start the ball rolling (as we covered earlier with questions like “shall we” or “what would you like to do”), but then you want your child to engage and take the lead. Be mindful that this is your child’s moment in their busy, adult-dominated day when they are completely in charge and we don’t want to take that away from them. Play is one of the only times where you have little to no control of what happens, their imagination is exactly that, THEIR imagination, you should be there to help, but let the child take you on the journey they want to go on.

Within the nursery environment, we have a child-centred ethos, and our practitioners are there to facilitate and scaffold learning. There are times when the child will just not want to participate or engage, and that is completely ok, they have the right to decide when and how they play and we shouldn’t force play onto them, they will decide when they are ready to join in.


Don’t Worry About the Outcome

 Playing with your child is not about the outcome, there doesn’t need to be an end product or a conclusion. Play is about the process, and what they learn from that process, for example within the nursery in my early days as a practitioner I often witnessed children making, what I thought was a mess at the paint area. I wanted nothing more than to go over clean them up and put them onto something that would be less messy, however, over time, I realised that that is what the child wanted to do and where they wanted to be, and at that moment they were most inspired by the paint and what they could create with it. I had to remove my mind from the outcome… which was a very messy paint area (and a messy child!) and focus on the child at that moment and what they were experiencing and learning during that experience.

Embracing creativity



 I have just written 1000 words about how important it is to let the child get on with it and not to impose yourself on their play, however…. You want to inspire and expand their play, a great way to do this is through non-imposing communication. As the child plays, say what you are seeing, for example, “the cow is flying over the farm and into the water”. If you get it wrong, the child will correct you. Stick to observing and asking questions and try not to establish your own spin on their world,  such as “the cow is going into the water, don’t worry, he can swim!” by doing that you are immediately imposing your opinions and narrative into their imagination and taking some control away from their play.

When asking questions, you need to make sure they are the right kid of questions. Ask the child about their play broadly, “who is this” or “what happened there?” let them explain their world to you. Don’t ask them questions like “is this bob” or “did you just do this” as you might be altering the child's story and imposing your own narrative. Let the child explain their world to you.


Play is how children learn and we as parents/carers, need to be aware of that and support early years children by inspiring and creating time for play. As I said earlier, I see too many children join us at Little Beehive who don’t understand Play or have not had time to learn to play. Our practitioners are very skilled in supporting all children. However, we must remember that play is for home too and not just nursery.

The kind of play will vary for age ranges, I could go into depth about each age range and what is age appropriate, but I think I would be here all night! However, I am a big advocate for sensory play for under 5s, if you have time and are handy with a hammer, I would look at creating a sensory board for your home!

Tina Bruce Twelve Features of play

It wouldn’t be fair of me not to include Tina Bruces 12 Features of play in my Blog about play, a fantastic document I use and base my play practice on!

Features of play

If you have any questions, let me know at 

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