The importance of play in child development


How does play help my child’s development?

Play has been identified to be vital in helping children to learn how to interact with the world around them. Play provides young children with a framework that enables them to learn motor, cognitive, physical and social skills – it is a key part of their development. Children’s brains need to be immersed in real life, hands-on and meaningful learning experiences.

Play between children and their parents is particularly useful for a number of reasons, including supporting parent-child bonding, fostering communication and connectedness, and promoting learning and emotional development.

Play is deemed so critical to child development and their physical and mental health, that it is included in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Up to what age do you recommend children have play on the curriculum for the majority of their day?

In the UK learning through play is at the heart of the Foundation Stage curriculum which children will follow during their Reception Year at school. However, children continue to learn through play beyond their Reception year and this is something that parents can continue to support by providing plenty of play opportunities outside of school.

What are your top tips on how to make play time with children as interactive/engaging as possible?

One of the ways that parents can make play time as engaging as possible is through interactive and child led play. This is where parents follow the lead set by the child, while commenting or narrating what they are doing. For example, when your child is playing with buildable toys like Kinder Surprise animals, you can describe what the characters are doing, such as, “the big Lion is running over to the baby Lion”. Be curious about what might happen next and allow your child to set the story line, with you joining in with the scenario and following what the main character is doing.

When your children are playing digitally, try and engage in games that you can do together, particularly games that are interactive and allow you to talk about what you are doing and share in the themes of game. For example, on the new app developed by Kinder, your children can take part in their own adventure which you both can then revisit at Storytime to bond over the playing experience they have just had.

Digital play and screen time


What are your thoughts on children playing on iPads/tablets as part of their

The current generation of children are growing up as digital natives. Play is no longer experienced as a strictly real, or virtual, activity. Research points to an ‘increasing blurring of the boundaries between the digital and the non-digital.’ Studies focused on children’s digital play at home have shown positive learning outcomes for children. It is important for children to engage in activities that support the full range of their physical, language, cognitive and social development. Digital play is one way of developing these skills, but it is important that children are engaging in a wide and varied range of activities to ensure that they are promoting their development in a holistic way.

What age would you recommend letting children play a phone or tablet?

In the UK, government guidance does not specify any specific ages or time limits and highlights that the evidence base to support recommendations on ages and amounts is weak. For preschool aged children, my professional view would be for parents to ensure that their young children engage in a range of different activities which can include digital play, but that they always remain a key part of their digital play experience.

How much time should I allow my child to play games on the phone/iPad?

There are no firm guidelines in the UK for how long children should spend on digital devices. The current guidance in the UK recommends that parents focus on the impact of digital play and screen time on aspects of family life. It is important that parents are able to manage and regulate how long children spend on digital play and that time spent playing online is done predominantly with parents and children together. The new app developed by Kinder allows parents to follow their children’s progress on the parental dashboard. They can see the stories that they have developed together and see what skills have been learnt through the digital play.

Which child-friendly apps can help my kid’s development in a fun way?

Apps that encourage parents and children to play and communicate together will be most beneficial in supporting children’s development. Games that allow children to share ideas and play creatively with parents provide the optimum environment for children. The new app, launched by Kinder,  provides a playing experience created for the whole family that aims to encourage bonding time where parents and their children can play and discover together. It aims to help develop cognitive skills including mathematics, motor skills, reading & writing and memory in children. The app was recently awarded the highest rating (5*) by the Educational App Store.

What are the benefits of digital play on child development?

Studies focused on children’s digital play at home have shown positive learning outcomes. Digital play can help children’s cognitive development, promote creativity, help communication and social interaction skills if they are playing with others. Recent research in the field of digital play has made suggestions that digital technology allows for increased learning and creativity; technology can incorporate immediate feedback and the allowance to correct mistakes and try out new ideas which can have a positive effect on the learning outcomes of children.

What activities count as digital play?

The term digital play often refers to a model of play that derives from screen-based activities. This includes play activities related to video and computer games, electronic toys, mobile technologies, smart phones, iPads and tablets.

How can you make sure children are learning whilst playing games on an iPhone or iPad?

For young children, it is important that they are able to play digital games in interaction with others to optimise their learning opportunities. The role of digital play in the 21st century is continually changing, and parents should try to understand the app developers’ intended learning outcomes of the games being played by their children. For example, Oxford University's Department of Education provided Kinder with a set of guidelines to help with the development of the new app. The app is aimed at helping children's progression by creating and developing a game that utilises and develops cognitive skills including mathematics, reading & writing, motor skills and memory.

Play across different ages

How can I make play time family fun for everyone when the kids are different ages?

It is important to include games that all members of the family can engage with and this may mean choosing activities that cater to the skills of younger members. Games of chance and ones that don’t rely on specific skills can be good because it gives everyone an equal chance. Also, shorter games that are more manageable for younger children will likely be more successful. The app developed by Kinder is a great example of activities which adapt to the age or children so they are being challenged appropriately.

How can play help little ones process their feelings and emotions?

Play can be an important outlet for children to express their feelings and emotions. It can provide a way for children to play out scenarios to help them make sense of them and to understand what has happened and what might happen. Children can also externalise their feelings by playing them out through the play characters and this can help them to make sense of them.

Play, particularly make-believe or imaginary play, enables children to work on regulation in a safe environment, promoting the development of both cognitive and social abilities. The key mechanism of play is that it enables children to practise, and take on, “for real” scenarios in an imaginary way.

This allows children to explore complex themes within the safe confines of play and in a way that lets them step out of these ‘play’ scenarios as needed.