The pioneering Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget famously said: ‘Play is the work of childhood.’
We all need an occupation, something that engages and challenges us, and for the under-fives play is just that. Piaget was also a firm believer in allowing children to discover things for themselves, instead of instructing them – and we are with him all the way.
Children learn through discovery, through testing hypotheses. The reason babies repeat actions so often is that they are exploring all the permutations. A baby dropping toys from a high chair is not trying to annoy you or disobey you – they are trying to learn what happens when something falls.
Educational play should not be imposed. Under-fives should be free to choose their own activities. It’s up to the adult to offer ‘interesting provocations’ (an expression of the Reggio Emilia school) that will entice a child into trying something interesting and new.
Childhood should be fun. It is so fleeting. Children are under so much pressure these days, from the moment they start school. The time before school is precious, a chance for free play and exploration. Enjoy it.