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The Mother and Child Health and Education Trust



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Facts for Life

Child Development and Early Learning

Supporting Information


Encouraging children to play and explore helps them learn and develop socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually. This helps children get ready for school.

Why it is important - All key messages - How children develop (chart) - Resources

Children play because it is fun. Play is also key to their learning and development. Playing, both structured and unstructured, lays the foundation for a child's development of future learning and life skills. It helps children:

  • develop their knowledge, experience, curiosity and confidence
  • learn by trying things, comparing results, asking questions and meeting challenges
  • develop the skills of language, thinking, planning, organizing and decision-making.

Stimulation, play and being included in play with other children and adults are very important for children with disabilities or chronic illnesses, such as children with HIV.

When parents and other caregivers talk and interact with children in their first language, it helps children develop the ability to think and express themselves. Children learn language quickly and easily through hearing and singing songs, having stories told or read to them, repeating rhymes and playing games.

Girls and boys need the same opportunities for play and interaction with all family members, including siblings and grandparents, and in activities outside the home. Play and interaction with the mother and the father help strengthen the bond between the child and both parents.

Family members and other caregivers can help children learn by giving them simple tasks with clear instructions, providing objects to play with and suggesting new activities. They should not dominate the child's play.

All children need a variety of simple play materials that are suitable for their stage of development and learning. Water, sand, cardboard boxes, wooden building blocks, and pots and lids are just as good for facilitating a child's play and learning as toys bought from a shop.

Parents and caregivers need to be patient when a very young child insists on trying to do something without help. Children learn by trying until they succeed. As long as the child is protected from danger, struggling to do something new and difficult is a positive step in the child's development.

Children are constantly changing and developing new abilities. Caregivers should notice these changes and follow the child's lead. Responding to and encouraging children helps them develop more quickly.

As young children grow older they need opportunities to learn and socialize with other children of their age. Group learning activities, run by a trained caregiver or teacher at home or in a nursery school or kindergarten, are important in helping children get ready for school.

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