Let children play

I was lucky enough to spend much of my childhood living on the grounds of The King’s School. In these spacious acres of fields and bushland, I was privileged to be able to be ‘immersed in play’. I enjoyed exploring nature in the bush, being creative in constructing cubby houses and billycarts, and developing my gross motor skills climbing trees, on the rugby paddock, tennis court and in the pool. 

As an adult, I am still developing skills and character as I ‘play’ while surfing, fishing, and exploring the headlands and rock platforms of the Northern Beaches.

In Finland, a country which is universally recognised for its educational leadership, innovation and academic achievement, there exists an education culture that protects and cherishes childhood, one in which students are immersed in a play-rich education that goes all the way to high school. 

Finland has a crucial insight to teach the world - one that can boost grades and learning for all students, as well as their social growth, emotional development, health, wellbeing and happiness. It can be boiled down to a single phrase: “Let children play”.

Play is fundamental to learning: it is the natural fruit of curiosity and imagination. Play, in its many forms, has a fundamental role in all phases of life and especially in the physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development of children.

“Play is how children explore, discover, fail, succeed, socialise, and flourish. It is a fundamental element of the human condition. It's the key to giving school children skills they need to succeed - skills like creativity, innovation, teamwork, focus, resilience, expressiveness, empathy, concentration, and executive function.” (Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education Policy at the University of New South Wales and a former director-general at Finland’s Ministry of Education.)

Finnish parents and teachers widely agree on several mantras rarely heard in other education systems: “Let children be children” and “The work of a child is to play”. Finnish children learn to take responsibility and manage risks at very young ages, in school and out. 

The American Academy of Paediatrics in their 2018 clinical report ‘The Power of Play’ states that the importance of playful learning for children cannot be overemphasised.

According to doctors quoted in the report, play boosts mental and physical health, develops executive function and offers ‘the ideal educational and developmental milieu for children.’ This includes recess, playful teaching and discovery, as well as periods of self-directed intellectual and physical activity by children with minimal direct interference by adults.

At Mosman Prep, you will notice the myriad of ways that teachers integrate play activities into the key learning areas to make learning active, engaging, and meaningful. This is particularly critical for boys. These activities consist of a wide variety of multi-sensory content (art, music, language, science, math, cooking, social skills) because each is important for the development of the whole brain.

How can parents help?

Play provides wonderful opportunities for growing social connection, as well as family bonds. As parents, we have an important role in promoting learning through play at home by:

Ensuring there is time in your child’s life for free play (away from technology) without adult direction. We are living in increasingly over-scheduled times. Play content should come from the child’s own imagination and experiences.

Encouraging the pursuit of your son’s natural hobbies and interests. This may be learning a favourite musical piece, honing his tennis skills, growing vegetables, or tying fishing knots.

Allowing time for board games, to dig in the sand or clamber over rocks at the beach or throw a ball in the park. You can simply follow your child’s lead as the master expert of play. 

The American Academy of Paediatrics notes that the lifelong success we covet for our children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from ‘play’. This has never been more true than it is in these trying circumstances of COVID disruption.

Peter Grimes | Headmaster


Let the Children Play - Pasi Sahlberg - Finnish educator, author and scholar.

The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children - Michael Yogman, Andrew Garner, Jeffrey Hutchinson, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health and Council on Communications and Media.