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Brain Development and How Children Learn Through Play
From a historical perspective, it is well known that children’s learning occurs in all social and cultural settings and that the best practice for all children’s early learning, includes artistic play as a natural childhood activity.
According to ancient Greek Philosopher Plato, it is “the adult’s role to provide children with an environment that encourages them to enjoy learning through relevant and meaningful opportunities while surrounded by items that foster their imagination, ability to imitate, and an environment that contains materials that provide opportunities for repeated practice of skills, in order to prepare them for adulthood”. Likewise, it is common knowledge within the current field of Education that children learn best through active, hands-on learning experiences that include parent or teacher involvement, as a positive and nurturing role model. We know that children should be encouraged to learn by exploring their senses and motor abilities, as play helps them to make sense of the changing world around them.
In the Early Years Study, sponsored in 1999 by the Government of Ontario, McCain and Mustard identified the importance of young children’s Critical Periods of learning. According to the study, children go through several sensitive periods within their first six years of life, during which time particular functions of the brain go through stages of development. These developmental stages offer windows of opportunities in each child’s early years when their brain is ready to receive sensory input and develop more advanced neural systems through the wiring and sculpting process. As children’s brains are further stimulated, they continue to develop neural networks that establish patterns for later learning, behaviour patterns and overall health.