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The importance of playtime in nursery

Toddler and carer playing

Why is it that all we do is play in nursery? Is it just something to help pass the time or is it actually beneficial to your child’s development?

We’ll explore all that and more in our guide to the importance of playtime in nursery below!

Nurseries/Preschools and Reception Classes follow the same EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) framework.

The EYFS is a statutory framework produced by the government for early years providers that sets the standards for the learning, and development for children under 5.

There is a difference however in how this is implemented.

Schools tend to have a more structured approach to learning – to some parents, this can be a big draw.

Child-led play-based learning (which you’ll see in nurseries) can look less beneficial to learning and development as it’s not the formal way of learning we’re used to.

Play is a small word but has a huge amount of scientific research behind it, consistently showing that play-based learning is incredibly important for young children.

Through play, children have the freedom to explore different ideas which support the development of communication, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills – all vital to their growth.

Toddlers in group

Play in the EYFS

The EYFS outlines that a large part of teaching and learning incorporates play!  Let’s explore how below.

  • Active learning through playtime

Children focus and keep on trying if they encounter something difficult as well as enjoying achievements.

This builds resilience and their willingness to work through challenging things.

  • Creative and critical thinking in playtime

Little ones develop ideas, make links and strategies for different things in playtime. They learn to solve problems and overcome challenges.

  • Playing to explore

Little ones love to investigate and experience different things. Having a go sets them up with the confidence to investigate and learn new things.

This is only a small snippet of skills children develop through playtime. We’ll dive deeper into specifics below!

But first… a little insight into The Butterfly Patch nursery practitioners

Teaching in Early Years is a science, an art and a craft all in one. It requires skilled and highly trained staff.

Our practitioners are trained specifically to teach young children – this is very different from the training Primary School teachers receive.

Ofsted notes that Early Years Teaching involves:

  • Communicating and modelling language,

  • Showing,

  • Explaining,

  • Exploring ideas,

  • Encouraging,

  • Questioning,

  • Facilitating and setting challenges and so much more.

Early Years Practitioners therefore utilise a range of teaching approaches to tap into each child’s learning potential – specifically recognising that every child learns differently and at their own pace.

They will allow them the freedom to work towards their own goals (rather than setting ones for them).

Little ones will be able to experiment, learn new things and more all free of the pressure of getting things wrong.

Toddlers playing

How playing impacts development

Now let’s explore specific learning areas and how playtime helps to supports those!

  • Language and Communication Development

Through play, children engage in conversation, narrate stories and ask lots of questions. All of this will improve their language and communication skills!

Practitioners at nursery will often use playtime to introduce new vocabulary. This way children will be more engaged and open to learning as it’s something (a topic, activity or thing) they’re genuinely interested in.

Interacting with their peers is also an important aspect of this as they will learn from each other, engage in conversation, share ideas, games, and goals! In turn, helping to develop sentence structure, vocabulary, communication skills and more.

  • Maths Skills

While a little one being able to recite numbers from 1 to 10 can be impressive it doesn’t actually equate to a child’s knowledge of maths. This is simply because these tend to be memorised in the same way they’d learn a song!

The ability to truly understand how counting objects works (known as the cardinal principle) or deducing how many objects are in a group without counting (known as subitizing) are actually developed through play!

This can be through sorting toys, pretend play with numbers, playing with different shapes and more.

  • Social and Emotional Development

Early Years research has shown that play is also vital in the development of social and emotional skills.

This is because it provides children with the opportunities to interact with each other, share, cooperate and negotiate – helping to develop life skills like teamwork, empathy and conflict resolution.

During pretend play, children may also play out different emotions and feelings, this helps them develop self-regulation skills (click here for our full guide), which helps them manage their emotions.

Little ones are always learning what is considered appropriate behaviour – which is why they often try to challenge and question boundaries.

In schools it’s common to see reward charts or even taking away a toy for this sort of behaviour.

This is an outdated approach as it teaches children to ‘obey’ rather than understand why the rule or boundary is in place.

This is why in nurseries, practitioners support children in understanding why rules are there and encouraging empathy towards others.

Children are encouraged to make their own choices and then given opportunities to reflect on how they can remedy a situation themselves.

  • Understanding the world

The first 5 years of a child’s life are all about discovering and investigating how the world works around them as well as figuring out their place in the world.

This can sound overwhelming but what we mean is that they will be extremely curious about where they live, their local community and what other communities and places are out in the world.

As they learn more about this through various experiences (outings, going to shops, doctors, community events, dentists and more), they will incorporate this into playtime to help them understand where they fit in.

Children may also roleplay in different jobs e.g. shopkeeper, dentist etc. in order to better understand what role they have within their local community!

Depending on the type of play children engage in, it can also help develop their physical skills, art and design and literacy.

If you’re familiar with the EYFS, you’ll know these are all of the Early Years learning areas.

Playtime is truly an amazing tool for learning and development!

Additional Resources


Thanks for reading! Curious about The Butterfly Patch Nurseries? Click here to learn more.


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