Why play doesn’t have to be ‘educational’ to prepare children for school

September 9, 2019 Published by

(Part 1/2. Read the second article in this series here: 'How to support STEM learning with open-ended play')

If you worry that your child doesn’t play with enough educational toys and games, you are not alone! A recent international study found that half of parents with pre-schoolers, and nearly four in 10 parents of five to eight year-olds, feel their child should be spending more time on educational play.

But education and success in school is more than just about learning to read or write.

The benefits of educational toys

“There’s no doubt that children who feel confident with their numbers and letters are more likely to engage fully in classes. This will in turn, help them learn more and become more confident – and so the virtuous circle continues.“
- Child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer

In addition to confidence, there are a whole range of skills that can help your child become a curious and excited learner.

For example, resilience is key to overcoming challenges and adapting to situations; social skills help your child work well with others and make friends; and creativity lets your child innovate and think flexibly.

These skills are important for performing well in school - but they’re valuable for your child’s future happiness and wellbeing too. By developing skills like these, he or she can take on the world. And also maths lessons.

Is there too much pressure for play to be ‘educational’?

Our research found that over nine in 10 children spend at least enough time (if not more) on educational play - yet three quarters of children aren't getting enough active, free play. This suggests that educational play is being prioritised over other types of play, even though these are vital to well-rounded development and school-readiness.

Less than one in 20 early years teachers believe that being ‘school ready’ means children have an understanding of reading, writing and maths - instead, many teachers believe that independence, curiosity, a desire to learn, and strong social skills will give children the best start in school.

By focusing your child’s leisure time on developing soft, transferable skills like these - regardless of age - you are giving him or her the tools needed to thrive in a school environment.

Using a balanced approach to play

The more time children spend on ‘educational’ play, the less time they spend on all the other wonderful types of play that help them develop this wider set of skills.

Our Balanced Play Pyramid therefore shows a way to get a good mix of the different types of play, in a way that will help children reach their full potential while enjoying happy, healthy childhoods.

Because the Play Pyramid doesn’t give a fixed amount of time that parents ‘should’ dedicate to each type of play, it can be adjusted to suit any family and any amount of free leisure time.

With this in mind, we recommend that children spend more time on active, social, imaginative and creative play, than using educational toys and games.

Read why open-ended, creative play can be more effective than formal learning in the next article in this series.

Sponsored Article: This article may contain links to internal/external content related to our sponsor. All opinions are our own and all products mentioned have been approved by Fundamentally Children through strict, independent testing processes.


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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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