The early childhood centre playroom is divided into various play areas catering to a variety of learning opportunities. Namely; fantasy play, block-building, manipulative play and educational games, sensory play, a book corner, a science and mathematics area, as well as art and writing area. The following article gives a brief look at each play area, and how it benefits children and learning.
Fantasy Play is an important part in a child’s emotional expression and ability to process complex concepts. As the children participate in imaginative play, they’re able to convey concepts and attach meaning to experiences in their own lives. In addition, fantasy play is most often a social experience through which children learn to interact with one another and problem-solve. This interaction improves their use of language and also nurtures their creative thinking.
Children of all developmental levels are able to participate and benefit from Block Building. At Smallways Nursery School the Block Building area is used to establish and strengthen the children’s understanding of basic mathematical principles in preparation for formal schooling. The children are introduced to age-appropriate mathematical concepts using real-life examples in the block area. Children are able to physically demonstrate and give meaning to various principles such as numbers, quantity, surface area, volume, shape, classification and organisation.
This is further explored in the Mathematics Corner. As educators we realise the importance of a child’s understanding of numbers – in other words, their concept of numeracy. Rote counting and number recognition is important, however, children develop their understanding of amount/quantity through practical, real-life examples (counting objects such as buttons, blocks etc).
The Manipulative Play area hosts a variety of educational activities. The children can participate on their own or in small groups, which is especially helpful to introverted children who prefer quieter games and interaction over physically exuberant activities. There are numerous benefits to these activities; the most significant being fine motor dexterity and control, hand-eye coordination, development of critical thinking and problem- solving skills, improvement of concentration and memory, and shape, number and colour identification. In our centre we have a wide variety of puzzles, memory games, Lego, fixed-plan models for building and educational games and cards; set out and regularly varied by the educators.
The Sensory Play area is extremely popular because it allows children to learn through active exploration and physical manipulation. Sensory play is important for the release of negative feelings and provides an appropriate outlet for aggression, anger and anxiety. Working with clay, water and sand have a calming effect on children and foster feelings of success because the materials are easily manipulated and controlled. There is ample opportunity for peer interaction and socialisation, imaginative play, improvement of hand-eye coordination and fine motor manipulation in the Sensory Play area. There is a designated area outdoors with a table and chairs set out for clay modelling activities and water play, as well as an under-cover sandpit with a variety of play accessories. On rainy days the clay modelling table is moved indoors so that children are always able to participate in tactile activities.
The Reading Corner is situated away from other play areas, especially those that are noisy, and offers a wide range of developmentally appropriate and relevant books selected and attractively displayed by the educator. Some of these books will tie in with the weekly theme, whilst others will be solely for the enjoyment and interest of the children. The Reading Corner gives children a place to rest and recoup after physically active play.
The Creative/Art area gives the children the freedom to creatively express themselves through different mediums, which the educator varies daily. The learners experiment and discover the different artistic mediums and materials at their own pace and according to their own preference; for example, drawing and painting. Most teachers will ensure between two and three different supplementary art activities a day, which include free-drawing, mark-making and tracing.
Art is invaluable in early childhood education, as it stimulates creativity, problem-solving and decision-making abilities, emotional expression, concept concretisation, improvement of large and small muscle control and an understanding of artistic elements and principles that lay the foundation for writing and are vital for future learning. Davin R, (2007:25-53)