Welcome to Abbey Mill Childcare Ltd
Welcome to Abbey Mill Childcare Ltd

The Importance of Play

At Abbey Mill Childcare our philosophy supports a play-based learning environment promoting play as a vital part of childhood and the right of every child!

In our play based learning environment children are provided with long periods of uninterrupted opportunities to play. They have the opportunity to follow their own interests. They are encouraged to initiate activities and be self - directed with the support of playroom staff. They learn to take ownership of their work. They are gently molded into independent children with initiative and the confidence to take risks, knowing that there is no right or wrong way.

Child-initiated play based learning does not mean that the children just do what they like all day. There are times when the children come together as a group where they learn to listen to each other, share information, follow rules and partake in group activities. 

Play is critical to brain development: Children gain all the skills they need, socially, physically, cognitively, emotionally and creatively through play.


When children play they are:

  • Building imagination
  • Developing language and reading skills
  • Strengthening physical skills
  • Enhancing self-esteem
  • Building mad science skills
  • Forming friendships and social skills
  • Gaining self-control
  • Solving problems
  • Learning how to think
  • Discovering their world

Getting ready for success in school, work and life!


We believe that play is not frivolous……. It is not a luxury. It is not something to fit in after completing all the important stuff. It IS the important stuff. Play is a drive, a need, a brain-building must-do!

We trust our children as learners……Child-led free play is valuable for learning and mental health. Play allows children’s autonomy over their tasks, time, technique and team.

We promote choice……. Trusting children to choose how they spend their time and how they engage with the world results in play, learning and curriculum.

We trust play……During play children are constantly assessing, testing and expanding their understanding and abilities. Stepping back and trusting this process is extremely supportive

We step back a bit…. Well-intentioned hovering does not encourage children to manage risk, seek their own solutions, make good choices, hone social skills, self-regulate, and develop their personal identity. Stepping back just a bit shows you trust them to lead their own learning.

“Let’s play” ……Two words that lead to active and engaged play, exploration, discovery and learning. Two words that show trust in children as learners and value their time. energy and choices. Two words children should hear more often.

We see learning……When we allow children to lead their play we are able to see the learning which is taking place and can then consider how we can extend the children’s ideas and interests to promote depth and challenge without taking the child off task. We always remember that it is about where they want the play to go and not what where we think it should go! When we step back and observe children at play, paying attention to actions, decisions and expressions, interactions, reactions and deliberations we can see the ever-present learning.

How are play and learning connected?

In June 2013 the Scottish Government published its first National Strategy for play. This is defined as follows, “play encompasses children’s behaviour which is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. It is performed for no external goal or reward and is a fundamental and integral part of healthy development which seeks to improve play experiences for all children.” (Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision, Scottish Government June 2014)

Many theorists emphasise that when playing children try out new ideas and come to a better understanding of thoughts and concepts as they play; others see play as a means of coping with reality through their imaginations and an opportunity to practice new skills.

The challenge for us when we think about play is that the intrinsic value of what a child is doing can be missed or ignored and therefore seen as less valued. It is our responsibility to see play for what it is….an essential aspect of early years learning and the role of the practitioner is of critical importance if our young children are going to extend their thinking, widen their skills and consolidate their learning in play.

So as experienced childcare practitioners what do we do to support children’s development and learning through play?

  • We are aware of the immediate environment; we are flexible in offering choices and carefully select resources which capture interest to create moments which spark children’s play.
  • We have in mind what individual children’s current interest may be and provide props and spaces both inside and outside where children can play. 
  • We step in to (but never interrupt) conversations and play situations to ask a probing question, such as: What would happen if... and then know the moment to stand back to allow children to find out for themselves. 
  • We give children unspoken acknowledgement by smiling, nodding in approval to provide children with quiet unassuming support.
  • We are aware of what children are doing to encourage deeper levels of engagement and help create other options through asking questions such as I wonder if… which in turn help children to work out their own theories.

                                     (Building the Ambition Scottish Government 2014)


Child-Initiated play is not “Chaos”, it is a method of allowing children to build their skills for future learning and development. Children of all ages can initiate their own play and need to be allowed the time, space and independent learning opportunities to be able to develop these skills, from the baby who can choose their own rattle to put in their mouth in order to learn about textures and feelings, to the four-year-old who is deciding which tool is best for digging a hole in the garden to search for treasure!

Our role within this is as a facilitator. As practitioners we are skilled to provide children with the knowledge, skills and resources to become independent learners, this is achieved through carefully planned activities and giving children the skills to be able to initiate their own play and learning. Skills developed through child-initiated play and learning that are essential for the future include self-confidence, communication, independence, perseverance and challenging and exploring new ideas and concepts. These are skills that are supported when a child takes control of their own development and learning.

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