The first eight years of life are a child’s most informative years, where knowledge is gathered at a rate unmatched in later life. A positive experience of learning during these years has a direct impact on future educational and career outcomes, so how can we support this journey and encourage a lifetime passion for learning in our children? It really is as simple as ‘play’!

Images courtesy of Edx Education

Images courtesy of Edx Education

In the UK and much of the world, ‘learning through play’ has been adopted in nursery and primary schools as a key teaching method. Years of research have shown that young children absorb knowledge far better when it is presented in a play setting, compared to a direct-instruction approach.

The benefits of play are profound. Not only is it fun and engaging, but it encourages cognitive growth, hones gross and fine motor skills, is a great stress reliever and teaches our children how to monitor their emotional and behavioural responses. It encourages creative and imaginative thinking, improves literacy and maths skills, and is the perfect way to introduce early science and engineering concepts.

Playing together as a family is a wonderful bonding experience too. It teaches key social skills, such negotiation, compromise and perseverance through trial and error experimentation. It is also a great way to develop communication skills, through discussion and debate, analysing play scenarios and exploring the meaning and context of words through the general chitchat of play.

This form of organic learning allows children to learn autonomously or as part of group. It can happen anywhere, whether in the classroom, at home, or out and about. Indeed, every experience can become a learning experience, whether it’s a spontaneous game of Eye Spy on the school run (sounding out letters, while encouraging observations skills) or a pre-planned play experience at home, such as making homemade play dough (science and maths learning) and then cutting out different shapes to construct a 3D picture (art, physics and fine motor skill development!).

There are many ways to incorporate educational play activities into home life, whether using everyday items at home or by using learning through play toys, there are endless ways to play and learn. Here are just a few fun ideas to try with your kids…

Sand and Water Play

A great summer activity for the garden, sand and water play can teach children about physics, maths and science, while providing hours of entertainment. You can use washing up bowls on the lawn, or you can invest in a dedicated sand and water play table, which sits on a child height frame. Clear plastic models are best as children can see what’s happening below the water level as they experiment with their play. And many come with a lid, so play can continue the next day.

When playing with water, incorporate various sized jugs, funnels and hoses into play. These can be used to measure water (comparing water levels in different vessels, for example), or compare water flow rates as water is poured into different sized funnels and hoses.

Another great idea is to experiment with different objects to see which will float or sink, and discuss why that may be. A sponge is great for experiments too. As it absorbs more water, it becomes heavier and starts to sink. Children can then measure how much water has been absorbed by squeezing the sponge into the measuring jugs.

When playing with sand, you can use different objects to create various sizes and shapes of sandcastle structure. Or why not get artistic by imprinting items such as coloured seas shells to create patterns and pictures, or even create a mini world for imaginative play!

Cooking and washing up

Children love helping in the kitchen. Breaking eggs for cakes or pancakes is one thing every child seems to want to do over and over. It can get a little (sometimes very) messy but letting your little ones cook from scratch is a great way to encourage them to have a good relationship with food. The kitchen can introduce children to new words via ingredients, numbers when weighing ingredients and science watching cooking processes.

Maths Learning

Maths learning can be incorporated into so many aspects of play. Why not price up canned items from your home pantry and play shop, using a calculator to tally up totals. Or perhaps, when out and about, count how many times you see the number 2, on front doors, car number plates or street signs. This is a great way to teach number recognition while also counting as you keep total.

There are lots of great learning through play toy options too. Coloured maths cubes are a toy they will be familiar with at school, that you can also buy for home. You can use them to learn early maths skills such as adding, subtracting, categorising, or measuring length and area. They can also be clicked together to make artworks and structures, honing fine motor skills, encouraging creativity and inspiring young engineers!


During the late spring/summer months is an excellent time to get your little ones outside into the garden. Growing tomatoes or potatoes are brilliant beginner plants. With regular watering, both should produce a healthy yield of produce to eat. You can plant potatoes in buckets (with drainage holes) - this needs to be deep enough for the potatoes to grow and tomatoes can easily be grown in a variety of pots and tubs. You could also buy a tomato planting bag of compost which you can seed directly into. 


A lot of children might not like the sound of a vacuum, but there's plenty more household cleaning jobs they can safely help with. Next time you get out a dusting cloth, wet one for your little one with some warm and slightly soapy water. They're sure to follow you and help clean up a table or two. Copying mum or dad with their daily chores can be just as fun as playing a game.  

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