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The Importance of Play for Social Emotional Learning


Summer break for students is just that – a break from the typical routine that demands our children are to be switched on for six to seven hours a day. So, allowing for a break – that time to play – is important. And did you know that playing is one of the most powerful ways to reinforce social emotional learning (SEL) and help children build the social emotional skills they need?

In a meta study conducted by Dr. David Whitebread for Cambridge University, he revealed that "one vital ingredient in supporting healthy intellectual, emotional and social development in young children is the provision of opportunities and the support for play." Dr. Whitebread emphasized that "there is very clear evidence that children's cognitive development and emotional well-being are related to the quality of their play, and a number of studies have shown that individuals who are not well developed in these areas are not playful." 

How Play Encourages Social Emotional Learning

There are many types of play that can help children develop social emotional skills. For example, role playing games and pretend play can help develop emotional regulation, while structured play – games with rules – can help children learn to focus and control impulses. Physical play can help children learn how to manage stress more effectively.

There are many ways to incorporate play with kids of all ages, both during summer break and during the school year. For younger children, even a game of peekaboo can help with the social emotional development of a child. Encouraging artistic expression through music, painting, dancing, and other art forms can also be extremely beneficial for social emotional learning. 

Playing with Others

Learning to play and pretend with others can help children develop problem-solving, communication, and teamwork skills. Learning to share and cooperate at a very young age can impact the cognitive development of children over the course of their lives.The meta study "found consistent child and adult play deficits in a study of criminally violent young men."

When playing, children are more likely to freely express their emotions, even in pretend scenarios. This helps children learn how to understand and manage their feelings and helps them gain awareness of other's feelings.

Incorporating play into daily routines at home and at school can significantly enhance the development of SEL competencies. By providing opportunities for different kinds of play, caregivers and educators can create rich environments where children can thrive socially and emotionally.

Learn more about our social emotional learning model here: https://www.schoolday.com/resources/model

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