Transcript: The Role of Play in Early Childhood Development

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called The Role of Play in Early Childhood Development and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Each week I spend quite a bit of time assisting the children of a family that I look after to come up with fun educational activities. And recently I was going through my notes and studies from when I was studying from my childcare educator diploma way back in the 1980s and I came across a book written by Brenda Crowe, called Play is a Feeling. In 1983 when the book was written, Brenda was the first national advisor to the Preschool Playgroups Association. It is interesting reading the forward in this book 40 years after it was written and reading Brenda’s comments, which I quote ” Because we are eager to give our children a headstart, ‘play’ – the mainspring of their lives – is in danger of being narrowed down to manufactured toys educational play. Sometimes it seems as if we’re bent on robbing our children of their childhood.

Fast forward this by 40 years, and I can’t help wondering what Brenda’s take would be on where we are today with the advent of items that did not exist in the early 1980’s, such as home computers and smartphones. I feel that devices are responsible for producing generations of kids with underdeveloped and underutilized imaginations, expecting activities be handed to them on a platter, which is why I always encourage children in my care to be creative and come up with their own activities using their imagination, and to steer clear of devices, which do it all for them.

I’ve spoken with many wonderful people on First Time Mum’s Chat who have shared their expertise and experience, and in episode 72, the Impacts of Technology on Infant Development, I spoke with the wonderful Melissa Lowry, who has worked in the educational space for many years. Melissa currently serves as a principal of a kindergarten through eighth grade school in Atlanta in the US and here is a part of what Melissa had to say during our interview.

“And really truly what they’re saying is that children aged 0 – 2 should never watch media, i.e. television or videos and or engage with technology at any time when they are alone. So when you’re handing your child, let’s say an iPhone with headphones in a restaurant or in a vehicle, and that child is 0 – 24 months, the recommendation of the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) is that should not be happening at all.

And that once children reach about two years of age, then there should be co-viewing. So the parent is actually viewing the television program or the video and or the technology with the child so that there is an interaction that takes place while they’re engaging in that technology and media”.

It is incredibly important to allow your child to ponder, feel, and reflect, and I encourage children to do this when I’m around them. It is very much part of their childhood and encourages children to find out who they are through self-discovery, so engage with them and encourage them to be who they are.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been brought up on a farm in the countryside in rural Scotland. There was tons of open space and fields to explore and all the wonderful stuff that goes on in a farm, and I have so many wonderful memories of exploring and learning new things. Of course this never felt boring or like work because I simply loved the feeling of being outside and playing.

I think this is why I am so passionate about supporting children and giving them opportunities to learn through play and discover who they are through play and self exploration. It certainly inspired me to train as a childcare educator and then later as a baby massage instructor.

Back in episode 49 on First Time Mum’s Chat, I spoke with Sarah Bolitho, who is a therapeutic play practitioner. I included links to the episode in the show notes, but I wanted to include a part of what Sarah had to say, which I felt was highly relevant in this episode and here it is.

“And through play, that’s when children really get those opportunities to develop those social emotional skills. They get the chance to be bored, they can explore frustration, they can explore the idea of cause and effect of consent, even through rough and tumble play, problem solving skills, there’s just so many amazing skills, and I think parents get kind of put off by this idea of play because A, it’s either far too complicated or B, they feel like they have to do the playing. And actually when the parent takes lead of the play, the child’s no longer playing”.

One occasion when I was working in a childcare center, a child came in after being outside. I could see they were in a peaceful, dreamy state as they described the birds singing whilst they could hear the wind and this instantly took me back to my childhood memories of just listening to the outside world and the pleasures it gave me and I used it to encourage the child to expand their outlook and horizon. It really hit home for me how a child feels when they play and what they learn when they are simply allowed to be and do what they want.

I often suggest doing painting as an exercise to children in my care and have always found it fascinating seeing what they come up with whilst being spontaneous. Sometimes patterns are made from three to four paintbrushes, from pots of different colors, and at other times, the blobs are laid out close beside each other, and sometimes islands of color are used.

Watching the joy on your children’s face as they create their masterpiece is indeed always a delight to watch. Or even watching them concentrate whilst they’re putting their dots on it’s also a delight to watch. Whilst to us they may simply be observed as a blob of color, for the child they are learning about different colors whilst feeling the moment of joy as they paint and learn about spacial awareness and the pure joys of color and feeling their emotions.

I strongly suggest taking time out of your day to simply watch your child as they find their way in this world. This might be learning to crawl, taking those first steps, the first time they go on a bicycle with training wheels or simply climbing on the furniture. I can’t emphasize enough how important play is to them because it also improves their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing.

Play also helps children learn about themselves and helps them to develop those skills they will need when they reach school age and beyond, ready for study, work, relationships, and lifelong problem solving. Spending time playing and communicating with your children not only helps with your understanding of who they are, but what they are feeling and thinking, but it also helps develop their speech and abilities to think whilst building their confidence.

It is also invaluable in helping to start developing and build a vocabulary as you communicate and engage with them. Make sure you take the time to observe and listen to what your child has to say and do not interrupt them. Also, encouraging them to ask open-ended questions so they can formulate and communicate their own thoughts and ideas is another excellent way to encourage their development.

I’m often asked by parents when teaching them how to massage their baby, how baby massage can help baby with play. Studies have shown that routine touch and massage can lead to improved psychological, cognitive, emotional, and social development and baby massage has shown to improve mental development and increase alertness and attentiveness.

I do hope that I’ve inspired you during this episode to reevaluate how you encourage your little one to play. I can’t emphasize how important this is to their future development to get right. I’ve included links in the show notes to the episodes that I mentioned with Melissa Lowry and Sarah Bolitho, which can be found at and I highly encourage you to take a listen to their pearls of wisdom.

Next week I’m chatting with mum of 4, top performing realtor, entrepreneur, money coach, and speaker Candice Bakx-Friesen. We will be discussing what you can do to help get back to employment or how to start self-employment when you are a mom and you have a baby.

Be sure to listen to this episode when it comes out next week, and please subscribe to First Time Mum’s Chat via your favorite platform so that you get quick and easy access to all our episodes when they are live.