The Importance of Play

I am an advocate for children receiving as much ‘permission to play’ as is possible. It is the true ‘work’ of childhood. Wholly necessary and integral to their learning and development.

As my work is predominantly with the early years/under 5’s age group, Free Play forms the basis of all my Forest School sessions.

Session planning usually centres around providing opportunities for play in its various forms and/or Schema related activities. **More on Schema over on the Blog**

Awareness and knowledge of EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) adds another dimension to my planning but is not central to my delivery.


I often utilise various resources to inspire, stimulate or facilitate the play such as craft materials, clay, natural resources from the woodland or things like tarps for den building, string or tools.

Sometimes I will even bring toys (a somewhat contentious decision) as for young children unfamiliar with the setting these can prove to be good gateway/bridging items to gain confidence and utilise the play space.


The environment should be interesting, stimulating and present some challenge. Again working with the Early Years age group this means opportunity to gain further gross motor skills using things like stepping posts, climbing stumps or slack-lines.

This also allows for the essential Forest School element of developing the child’s ability to self assess risk, and learn to moderate behaviour accordingly – dependent on a variety of factors, has it been raining, are things more slippy etc


So how does Play work in a Forest School Setting?


Play as an Ethos

Whilst play is a ‘verb’ (a doing word) and therefor judged against other ‘activities’, in doing so it is often perceived as a ‘lesser’ way to spend time. You hear things like ‘They’re just playing’ or ‘All he wants to do is play in the mud kitchen’. If we could see all the learning that is happening, the schema playing out, the neurological pathways joining together as children made sense of the world, the fine and gross motor skills and the social skills being developed, all as an effect of ‘just play’ then we might give it the respect (and time!) it deserves.

The value of Play needs to be acknowledged more than ever under the current hot-housing and testing education culture. Play as an ethos, as a means to develop skills and emotional intelligence is every child’s right.

England, Wales & Scotland all have a ‘Play Charter’ detailing the rights and requirements for children’s play. For your reference below is Wales’s Play Policy.

The Welsh Government Play Policy (2002) defines play as follows:

Play encompasses children’s behaviour which is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. It is performed for no external goal or reward, and is a fundamental and integral part of healthy development – not only for individual children, but also for the society in which they live.

Freely chosen means that children themselves choose when, how and what to play. As such it is not part of a set programme and does not have any steps that need to be completed.

Personally directed means children themselves decide the rules and roles they take within their play.

Intrinsically motivated means that play is undertaken for its own sake, and not performed for any reward, certificate or status.

Play is difficult to define – it is many different types of behaviour and interactions with others and/or with environments and objects.