The Importance of Play in a Toddler’s Brain Development

Play-Based Approach
Last updated on 29 Sept 2023

From the very moment a baby takes its first breath, a profound journey of growth and discovery begins. The same is true for the first moment they play!

The concept of play, seemingly spontaneous and simple, possesses the remarkable power to mould a toddler’s brain. Play leaves an indelible mark on their cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, and social development.

As it happens, using play as a medium of learning is an integral part of the Reggio Emilia approach to childhood education, which inspired Lily Valley Preschool. This makes play a critical part of the experience for little ones in our care.

Today, we’ll talk about the value of play for toddlers’ development. To do that, we should explain Reggio Emilia first.

What is the Reggio Emilia approach?

The Reggio Emilia approach is an approach to early childhood education that emphasises children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn. If there is anything one should know about the Reggio Emilia approach relevant to our topic, it’s that it also falls under the umbrella of play-based learning methodologies.

In Reggio Emilia-inspired preschools like ours, you see a curriculum centred on hands-on projects that allow children to guide their own learning through activities like experimentation and play.

This approach is therefore a way of observing what children know, what they’re curious about and what challenges them, partly through their play and similar activities.

Why Play Matters for Toddlers

Play is critical to the promotion of cerebral development in various ways. It helps to understand the way the brain grows to see why.

The organ that we call the seat of thought is one that’s built in an ongoing process. That process spans a long period of time, beginning as it does even before we’re born and continuing all the way into the time we become adults.

The same process is affected by the experiences we undergo early on. Some processes strengthen the foundations upon which all cerebral development occurs later; some weaken them.

The most rapid brain development happens in the first few years of our lives. Studies indicate that a baby can make more than a million new neural connections per second!

To encourage this, children can be exposed to play from infancy, as the experience has been shown to support their brains’ growth through new experiences, emotions, and stimuli.

This is also why baby brain development toys are so popular. They encourage the cerebral development process while keeping children engaged, even sharpening things like children’s ability to focus by offering something that interests them.

Play and Learning Go Hand-In-Hand

Most parents would have already noticed this: children often learn through play. They discover how to move their bodies, how objects react to forces, how to interact with others, and more.

This is because at its heart, play is fuelled by curiosity about the world and others in it. It’s essentially how a mind first learns to interact with the world in a non-confrontational, friendly way. 

Play is also the method through which children first learn to exercise their creativity. They begin to hone their imagination, among other abilities, which is also important for healthy brain development. 

And they can keep building on the abilities they discover in play. For instance, a toddler engaged in experimental play with torchlights will learn about the colours of light and how different shadows are formed! This play experience allows them to use their imagination and explore their senses.

This is why it’s a good idea for children to engage in safe, guided play in their early years. It’s not wasted time but time spent in service of the child’s growth!

Parental Engagement

So, what role do parents have when it comes to early childhood play? 
To answer this, it’s vital to remember that children’s growth is always affected by the people closest to them. A parent or caregiver can both hamper and support a child’s development. 

This is because your privileged position allows you to mediate your child’s development in so many ways: you’re often the first person they play with as babies, for example. Likewise, you’re often the first person they ever learn to interact with in infancy.

The beauty of this is that you have a clear opportunity to engage with your child while helping them grow early on. You don’t even have to go out of your way to prepare an elaborate play experience from the start. For example, you can engage in different forms of nature play with your toddler by bringing them outdoors to investigate and explore different types of insects, leaves and flowers in Singapore’s gardens.

Keeping children’s early play experiences positive and rewarding is one of the best ways to encourage continuous growth and show them that learning is a good thing. When a young toddler babbles to you, for instance, doing something as simple as engaging in conversation can feel like a rewarding play experience for them already.

The same goes for giving your baby brain development toys. They may seem simple, but they can give your child an early experience of sensory and intellectual stimulation. The modest rattle, nursery mobile, or even ring stack are all excellent tools for this!

Ensure your child is in a preschool where play is valued

All of this should show that play is a critical tool for nurturing children’s development. With play, little ones get the experiences they need to form critical parts of their brains’ architecture.

This is why you should seek a preschool where play is acknowledged as a key part of your child’s early education. At Lily Valley, that is exactly what you get, thanks to our Reggio Emilia roots.

If you want to learn more, register your interest for a school tour with us. You can see our facilities, including the ateliers we have designed specifically for children to experiment and play in, stimulating their growth.

You can also talk to our educators and caregivers to see how we provide for every aspect of your child’s growth. If you’re interested in that, reach out to us today!