Playing helps toddlers build a better brain, according to a child development expert.
She believes engaging in play nurtures early brain development in pre-school children.
Dr. Jacqueline Harding, an early childhood expert at Middlesex University, says that the young child’s brain is inherently designed to be playful – and play is crucial for its development.
In her new book, “The Brain that Loves to Play“, she challenges the traditional divide between play and learning, emphasizing the essential role of play in early years education and holistic child development.
The book aims to contribute to the ongoing discussion on redefining how we care for, educate, and parent young children from birth to five years.
By drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and child development, Dr. Harding discusses how the young child’s brain not only craves play but also thrives on it.
She says children forge new neural pathways, laying a solid foundation for future learning and growth, through rich sensory experiences and playful exploration.
Illustrating the impact of immersive play on a young child’s brain, Dr Harding said: “At this very moment, the brain also starts to ‘jump’ and light up with joy as connections between neurons make impressive progress.
“Does this experience count as learning? Absolutely yes.”
Dr. Harding says that play-driven neural pathways, established before the age of six, have a “profound” and lasting impact on a child’s future opportunities.
Diverting from their innate inclination for play could deprive them of vital learning experiences and opportunities for growth.
Dr. Harding said: “It seems that the young child’s body and brain are literally designed to be playful, and this is crucial for its development.
“Children are naturally wired to play and any sustained deviation from this masterful design comes at a price.”
Her book also challenges the historical belief that play is a mere recreational activity for children, advocating instead for a “holistic” approach that recognizes play as a fundamental aspect of a child’s development.
Dr. Harding said: “There is no doubt, according to all the latest research, that the brain loves to play – and it is time that as adults we got on board with this notion too.”
The book also discusses the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-term impact on children’s mental health.
Dr. Harding recommends that play and early intervention should be prioritized to support young children who have lived through such “unprecedented” times.
She said: “As we emerge from a pandemic which has significantly impacted all our lives, there can be no better place to begin than considering how we can rewrite the narrative through support in the early years.”
Dr. Harding says the book is not an exhaustive compilation of scientific findings but rather a practical guide for adults seeking to better understand the value of play in young children’s development.
She added: “It is my belief that a greater awareness of how we can support children is vital for all who care for young children.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker