Global Initiative to Support Parents (GISP) | The Power of Play: How Parents and Caregivers Can Foster Holistic Learning
Students chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (reverence to the Mother land of India) during morning assembly at Middle School Keoti Balak.

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

The International Day of Education, which is an annual event celebrated on January 24, recognizes that education is a human right, a public good, and a public responsibility. This global day foregrounds the critical role of education in improving people’s lives and promoting development, harmony, and mutual respect. While formal education is often delivered by the government, it is parents and caregivers who are children’s first and greatest teachers. From birth and through the life course, parents are guiding, responding to, and engaging with children to stimulate and promote their socioemotional development alongside other skills and competencies. 

Parents and Caregivers Are Always Teaching 

Parents and caregivers perform several roles in teaching and guiding children’s development and learning. In the early years, they may directly or indirectly provide children with stimulation to foster the development of skills and competencies. For example, parents may read to children, promoting literacy skills and building a love of reading. This may occur in parallel with efforts to stimulate children’s creativity and curiosity alongside other skills. Such interrelated learning supports children’s well-rounded development and places them on a lifelong pathway of learning and growth. In later years, parents and caregivers may support learning through mentoring and coaching, whereby they guide children’s understanding of others and how to interact and engage while fostering respect and kindness. In this way, children can strengthen their resilience by promoting social cohesion and harmony. Parents can also model behaviors, demonstrating to children firsthand how to practice a healthy lifestyle, interact and build relationships with others, and act responsibly. 

When the parent-child relationship is strong, the learning effect is amplified. It is therefore necessary to support parents and caregivers in their awareness of how they can influence their children’s learning and to encourage them to actively promote learning daily. 

Learning Is Part of Life

Education is a powerful tool to improve the lives and well-being of children, which benefits all of society in terms of increased development and social cohesion. Parenting interventions can support parents and caregivers as they provide children with an environment that boosts their learning and builds a pathway to lifelong learning and growth.

However, parents and caregivers are often overwhelmed with their daily personal and professional responsibilities. It can be difficult for parents to hear that they should also “teach” their children. Parenting interventions can raise awareness of ways in which parents and caregivers can incorporate learning opportunities into their everyday routine and way of life. In this manner, guiding and teaching children doesn’t become “another thing” for parents to do. Rather, this approach when incorporated into the parenting routine can serve to advance children’s learning, growth, and development. When parents have the tools to promote learning, they are more confident in their ability to encourage and guide learning opportunities. When parents are aware of how they already support learning, their self-efficacy is boosted.

Learning Can Be Accelerated Through Play

“Play is the work of children.”

Jean Piaget

Increasingly, play is recognized worldwide as key to supporting and advancing children’s holistic learning. Parents and caregivers assume an important role when they promote play for learning. However, it is also important to consider how parents view play. For example, a five-country study conducted on parents’ beliefs about play suggested that 94 percent of parents agreed that play is important. However, the parents also felt that play should be structured and directed toward cognitive tasks. In general, while parents may be enthusiastic about play, the prevailing view is that play and learning are independent activities. Some parents are concerned that if children are left to play, they may not be adequately prepared for school and thus will lack the necessary intellectual competencies.

Children should be provided with plenty of opportunities to play in parallel with more traditional learning tasks that seek to develop social and cognitive skills. Play is a way to support, boost, and advance learning by developing healthy relationships, fostering life skills, and building resilience and well-being. This not only supports children’s growth and development, but it also helps families and society thrive and advance. 

Supporting Parents in the Use of Play

It is valid and necessary to acknowledge and recognize parents’ own childhood experiences and cultural backgrounds. Many parents have been raised in a didactic or instructive learning culture. As a result, they may be unaccustomed to using play for learning. Interventions for parents can stimulate their awareness and appreciation of using play for learning and provide tools and guidance on how to introduce daily playful learning opportunities. In this way, parents and caregivers can build on what they already are doing well by strengthening parent-child interactions and stimulating children’s holistic growth and development.

Such interventions can also provide parents and caregivers with a greater understanding of what play is, the spectrum of play, and how they can promote different types of play. This useful summary from the LEGO Foundation offers insights about how to encourage the use of play for learning. 

By promoting learning and by specifically using play for learning, parents and caregivers can boost children’s holistic development, thus stimulating their growth and fostering well-being. Parenting interventions can support and guide parents and caregivers in developing and strengthening these skills. Specifically, these efforts align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

When parents are aware of how they can support children’s learning and development, they engage more with their children, fostering learning opportunities and supporting their growth. This support can lead to improved early childhood development and school readiness and to decreased school dropout rates. Overall, academic performance is boosted.