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Play Builds Brains

Play Builds Brains

Saturday 28 May 2022
Play Builds Brains.

The recently released Thrive By Five Index and ECD Census results have brought much needed attention to the ECD sector in South Africa. While these two reports detail the barriers and enablers to quality preschool and early learning programmes for young children, let’s remember that there are opportunities for learning everywhere. Especially right in our homes! One of the most overlooked and undervalued approaches to developing cognitive, social and emotional capital is play. Research over the past 30 years has taught us that play is one of the most important ways in which young children gain essential knowledge and build more complex, higher-order skills such as creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. These set the foundation for future learning in children. 

Each year the Toy Library Association celebrates World Play Day today, on 28th May, in efforts to raise awareness and highlight the importance of play. The theme for this year is “Rediscover play. Recover through play” - especially relevant as families are still trying to recover from the negative effects of the pandemic. Apart from health challenges and loss of loved ones, Covid-19 presented an array of challenges for families. Increased and prolonged periods of stress have had negative consequences on the mental health of parents and children; lockdowns have robbed children of playtime with peers and social interactions; and caregivers trying to juggle additional responsibilities have had less time to dedicate to their children. This has impacted children’s development, parent-child and peer relationships.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that resilience is a cornerstone of human development. The ability to recover from unprecedented difficulties has become increasingly important in the “new normal”. As the Toy Library Association puts it – “play is an evidence-based and universal pathway to building reliance”. The association has identified “7c’s of resilience” –
  • Competence: by developing their skills, children learn to trust their own judgement and abilities
  • Confidence: consistent, supportive relationships enable children to believe in their own abilities
  • Connection: unconditional love and strong connections to others create a sense of security
  • Character: a sense of right and wrong ensures that children are prepared to contribute to the world in a meaningful way
  • Contribution: by contributing to something, children gain a sense of purpose
  • Coping: being able to distinguish between minor setbacks and crisis minimizes anxiety and enables stress management in positive and constructive way; and
  • Control: understanding that decisions and actions have consequences creates a sense of control
Play contributes to developing each of the 7c’s. Engaging in activities like singing, playing and dancing act as stress relievers for parents and children alike. In fact, a recent study in Pakistan found that mothers who engaged in playful activities with their children over a 10 week period showed a decline in depressive symptoms. Positive parent-child interactions can lay the foundations for the development of social-emotional skills with long lasting effects.

As children’s first playmates and teachers, when parents play with their children, they create emotional connections, stimulate their brains (think millions of neurons lighting up), help them find avenues to deal with stress and anxiety and move their bodies - all of which are pivotal for their development.
This is why we are calling for greater focus on empowering parents – children’s first teachers - to understand the value of play based learning and their role in it.  It is important to recognize that creating an enabling environment for holistic early childhood development falls within a spectrum – starting with empowered parents. These sentiments were echoed by counterparts from UNICEF and the Department of Basic Education at the ECD Census launch event – calling for greater efforts to empower parents and develop a holistic system of service provision that includes parents as key facilitators in shaping their children’s futures.

The Caregiver Learning Through Play Consortium welcomes Minister Angie Motshekga’s commitments to work “closely with other arms of the state, NGOs, civil society, private sector to ensure that all children, including those with disabilities, are provided with access to quality ECD”. This is certainly an exciting time for the ECD sector and as we rediscover and recover through play on World Play Day today, we look forward to strengthening our bid to empower playful parents in the future.

For more information or to set up interviews contact: Yani Horn on 079 234 2209 or [email protected]
About: The Caregiver Learning Through Play (CLTP) project is delivered through a consortium made up of HOPE worldwide South Africa (HWSA), Save the Children South Africa (SCSA), Ntataise, and the Early Learning Resource Unit (ELRU). Learning through play has been proven to boost children’s imagination and creativity, keep them engaged while learning, and help promote their emotional, social, behavioural, and physical development. Over the next 4 years, the programme will empower caregivers with knowledge, skills, activities and tools to facilitate Learning through Play (LtP).
Note to the Editor: If children are affected, we’ve got something to say. Our team of experts are available for comments, interviews and information