Learning News Play

How is play about learning?

After 7 years working as a Primary School teacher I retrained in horticulture with garden design. This was a fantastic chance to reflect on the play environments in which our children spend most of their time. The first stage in this was to look at the key element that is central to being a child: that of PLAY

The United Nation Declaration of the Rights of the Child was written in 1959. Article 7, paragraph 3 states: 

“The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.”

(photo by Mi Pham ||

A common reflection amongst parents when their children start school is that the child is not really learning anything. They are just playing.

However, there is no just about it. In fact play is the key to all learning  and is central in the development  of children. If you recall a special place in childhood, 9 times out of 10 it will be outside. You may view your memory of this place with a hint of nostalgia, but the fact that it is remembered is because you made a connection there, something shifted in your existing understanding and marked that place as special.

In child created worlds children experiment with power and control. (Stine 1997) Messing about in special places is more that ‘just fun.; it’s how children learn about the world and their place in it. (Cobb 1959)

Children spend a lot in time in places over which they have no control e.g. on a car journey. This is a passive and visual experience. This does not match a child’s active way of being in the world. Children seek direct stimuli. They seek tactile, auditory, oral and olfactory experiences. This is generally through direct and often disorderly body contact to experience their world. i.e. PLAY

Quite rapidly it becomes clear that children will play wherever they are and with whatever resources they can find – even if it’s a tin can. However, as providers of play settings, teachers and designers have an influence over the quality of the play that occurs in that setting. Jones and Prescott (1978) wrote that the type, quality and diversity of the physical setting we create for children directly affects the type, quality and diversity of the child’s play. 


Stine S 1997 Landscapes for Learning : Creating Outdoor Environments for Children and Youth. John Wiley and Sons. 

Cobb, E 1959 The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood. Columbia Press

The next post in this series will think about creating play environments and the elements required to encourage all of the different ways that children can play.