Play is one of the most universally defining behaviours and characteristics of children. But did you realise that energetic, noisy, dizzying, unstructured play where children have the opportunity to experiment and be free provides important opportunities for them to develop both socially and emotionally?

Early childhood is a period of rapid cognitive and physical growth that is accompanied by tremendous social and emotional development. It is a time where children naturally explore and try to make sense of their environment. It is also a stage where many children find their communication skills and ability to perform tasks does not always meet their needs or expectations. So, it isn’t surprising that early childhood is often filled with big emotions.

While the social and emotional development of children has always been an important focus for educators and parents, it has recently become even more of a concern with the global pandemic augmenting anxiety and insecurity for many children. This heightened focus has propelled an appreciation for how powerful play experiences are for supporting children socially and emotionally. Childcare centres in particular are proactively responding to this dynamic by investing in quality open-ended resources that encourage learning through play. This is because play allows children to:

1 – Experience emotions in a safe environment.

From frustration and anger to excitement and elation, children have the opportunity to experience all manner of emotions during tactile play. For example, the pride they achieve when building a tall Connetix tower, to the anger and disappointment when someone else knocks it down. Through this medium of play, children can be supported to identify emotions and learn how to respond to them.

2 – Build problem solving skills and emotional strength.

Encountering problems with play is normal, since a lot of the time things don’t go as planned and obstacles need to be overcome in order for a child to reach their end goal. For example, when building a Connetix castle, it may collapse a few times before children realise it needs a sturdy foundation. Sometimes children are put in a position where they must accept their goal is unachievable –  maybe they don’t have enough Connetix to construct what they envisioned. In these scenarios children can be supported to develop strategies for dealing with their feelings; learning to problem solve to achieve their goal or navigate around roadblocks to continue playing.

3 – Learn to be emotionally flexible.

Play often involves children forming an idea of what they will do before trying to accomplish it. Sometimes they are put in a position where they must accept their goal is unachievable –  maybe they don’t have enough Connetix to construct the perfect house they envisioned. With support, children can learn how to navigate around these situations and continue playing, rather than fixating on the issue.

4 – Develop social resilience and collaborative play.

Through play with peers, children often need to negotiate with others in terms of what to build and what role they can contribute. Sometimes their ideas will be rejected, other times they will find their help is not wanted or needed. While these experiences can be a hard emotional process for a child, they provide opportunities to build on their social resilience and value the different ways they can contribute in collaborative play.

5 – Learn about social awareness.

In the early years, social awareness (i.e. empathy) is often experienced through collaborative play and negotiating interpersonal boundaries. For example, when presented with the option to build alone or with others, a child will learn to consider and communicate their own needs, “I just want to make my own tower!”, alongside becoming aware of others, “Billy really needs my help to build a tower!”. We can empower children to recognise their interpersonal boundaries and how to articulate them respectfully, as well as acknowledging their peers’ perspectives.

6 – Learn to belong to a social group.

Forming confident relationships and developing a sense of belonging is crucial for social development. It not only shapes who children are, but also who they can become. Whether it is learning to be happy and comfortable with their playmates or finding a group with a unifying identity (e.g., peers who are enthusiastic about a particular activity like building Connetix towers), early childcare settings provide many opportunities for children to experience belonging.

7 – Practicing communication and language skills.

Scientists have found that developing motor-skills early in life, such as those built through tactile play, have a direct relation to a child’s development of language skills. This doesn’t mean that you need one to develop the other, but it is thought that rhythmic movements and assembling/disassembling things (such as Connetix magnetic tiles) are precursors to forming rhythmic speech and experimenting with language structures at a young age.


So there you have it! Just a few ways open-ended play benefits the social and emotional development of children, and how we can facilitate these experiences. It is not surprising to see how integral play experiences are to children’s social and emotional development, and why so many parents and early childhood educators alike value high quality, open-ended resources like Connetix to support them. The possibilities for playing and learning with Connetix are open to the limits of your imagination!

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