by Amelia Barrow

Play: why your son’s learning is all fun and games


The world is a busy place, particularly for parents of young children. However, no matter how crazy life gets, I believe it’s important to make time in our schedules for one vital activity – playing with our kids.

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. However, as an early childhood educator, I have found that play has a huge impact on a boy’s cognitive, social and emotional development.

Young boys who are engaged in play (not to be confused with ‘being entertained’ in front of the TV or iPad) are also engaged in serious learning.

What makes this approach even more powerful is when play at kinder or school is followed up with play at home.

How play benefits boys 

  1. Play develops communication skills

Through playing, particularly with others, your son is using language to pretend, be silly, ask questions and figure things out. By playing with him, you can add to this by introducing new words (so if you’re ‘digging for dinosaur bones’ you can talk about ‘excavating’ or ‘paleontologists’). Through playing with you, your son is also practising the vital skill of listening, which will stand him in good stead when he’s playing with his peers.

  1. Play develops relationships

Play promotes social interactions and social skills that are critical in a child’s world. Playing with a parent helps a child learn how relationships work and the importance of give and take in play. The number of friendships and the quality of your son’s friendships will usually increase with maturity and frequency of exposure to play.

  1. Play enhances cognitive development

Imaginative play and role-playing are particularly powerful kinds of play that help the brain develop in more functional and positive ways. Children who engage in these kinds of play have a more sophisticated level of interaction with others and with their environment than those who do not. This is particularly evident in studies of children who watch high levels of television in comparison to children who spend more time playing.

  1. Play enhances creativity 

Play and creativity are intimately linked.  Both require observation, discovery, experimentation, questioning, and making connections. In addition, central to both play and creativity is divergent thinking, where many paths offer potential solutions.

Imaginary play, drawing, painting, block-building, dancing, climbing and running, all enhance gross- and fine-motor development and provide experiences that are vital in boosting a child’s brain at the most important time for its development. Creative play also provides children with opportunities to express themselves and work through emotional situations in a non-threatening manner. 

  1. Play impacts positively on wellbeing

Active play fosters sound emotional and mental health. Through play, your son strengthens his confidence, learns to trust others, creates friendships, and feels safe. These benefits develop a sense of belonging, critical to feelings of wellbeing.

Studies have shown that older children who engage in play with their parents tend to be more engaged in other activities, experience positive school engagement, have positive mental health, stronger friendship networks, and enjoy greater family closeness compared with older children without playful parents.

Easy home play ideas for kinder and primary-aged boys 

  • Raid the recycling: make rockets out of milk cartons, puppets out of icy pole sticks, or masks out of egg cartons.
  • Make music: use pots and pans as instruments or throw on some music and throw some shapes on your ‘dancefloor’.
  • Have a ball: balls and frisbees can encourage practice in kicking, throwing or rolling.
  • Build a den: use furniture, linen, washing baskets, tents and boxes to create an architectural masterpiece.
  • Pretend to be’: superhero or vet – who are you going to be today?
  • Coordination boosters: create a homemade obstacle course or improve coordination through ball games.
  • Board games: these help kids understand rules and also enhance coordination.

Albert Einstein believed that “Play is the highest form of research”. Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.” I agree with them both.

So, enjoy the next time your son invites you into their wonderful world of learning for a play. You’ll be surprised how much he, and you, will get out of it.

Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School


Article first published June 2021.

Amelia Barrow is Director of the Early Learning Centre at Brighton Grammar, an all-boys school in Melbourne. This article is about