An early childhood expert at Middlesex University, argues in a new book that the young child’s brain is inherently designed to be playful and this is crucial for its development.
In her new book, The Brain that Loves to Play, which has attracted international media coverage, MDX Research Fellow Dr Jacqueline Harding emphasizes the essential role of play in early years education and child development.
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.
“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." MDX Research Fellow Dr Jacqueline Harding.
Through rich sensory experiences and playful exploration, children forge new neural pathways, laying a solid foundation for future learning and growth.
Illustrating the remarkable impact of immersive play on a young child’s brain, she explains, “At this very moment, his 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.
“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.”
Challenging the historical belief that play is a mere recreational activity for children, the book advocates instead for an approach that recognizes play as a fundamental aspect of a child’s development.
“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,” she states.
The long-term impact of Covid-19 on children’s mental health is also discussed in the book. Dr Harding recommends that play and early intervention should be prioritised to support young children who have lived through such unprecedented times.
“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,” she says.
“It is my belief that a greater awareness of how we can support children is vital for all who care for young children.”
Fly-on-the-wall films of children at play are included in the book which support the points raised in each chapter.
Dr Harding, an expert on child development, is a former BBC editor, government consultant and the founder of Tomorrowschildtv.com.
Her book - The Brain that Loves to Play: A Visual Guide to Child Development, Play, and Brain Growth – has been published by Routledge and is available here.