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What is Play?

Free play is what happens when children follow their own ideas and interests in their own way, and for their own reasons. They can do this on their own or with others. It can happen inside or outside. We give children the choice of how and when they play. 

There is lots of information available about the health and well-being benefits of play. Active play helps to build strong bones and muscles. Children and young people explore their feelings through play, and this can help them build resilience and cope with stress.

Play is how young children make sense of the world. There is also evidence to show that play in early childhood can influence the way your child's brain develops, helping to co-ordinate their mental and physical capabilities. Through play, children develop problem-solving skills, imagination and creativity, language and observation skills, and memory and concentration.


Children use play to test their theories about the world and their place in it.


Our Resources

Lots of our resources are based on loose parts both indoors and outdoors. Loose parts are not pre-designed and have multiple ways children can use them. They are open-ended, meaning there should be no obvious, prescriptive use.

A resource designed by a toy manufacturer will generally speaking have only one specific use. A box full of buttons, a bag of pine cones, a tray of shells or a selection of different sized nuts and bolts will allow children to line up, combine, take apart, redesign, count etc… the possibilities are endless and as we know children are experts at playing and learning!

Our role as practitioners at Welly is to observe, encourage and extend children’s learning through offering this type of resource.

Roleplay Area/Small World

At any Early Years setting you will see children enjoying imaginative play. Perhaps playing the part of a firefighter in their engine, a shopkeeper, a parent, a dentist or a nurse, or maybe spending the afternoon at the airport. Children use objects to represent something else or assign themselves and others roles and then act them out.

It may seem quite simple, but in pushing back the barriers of reality, these children are learning and developing many different and important life skills. This pretend play is a major feature of a child’s social and cognitive development.

As practitioners at Welly, we observe carefully to pick up on children’s current interests to adapt our role play and small world areas accordingly.


Books, Reading, Rhymes and Singing

Enjoying books and reading stories from a very early age is crucial in the development of children. It helps with their ability to understand words, use their imagination and develop their speech, as well as being something they really enjoy.

​The more children experience books the more they will gain an interest and passion for them. Reading offers so much more than just quiet time in a cosy corner. It helps to develop spelling, listening, writing, literacy and social skills.

Young children need to be able to experience books. They need to be able to understand and enjoy stories, books, rhymes and songs and listen and respond to them with curiosity and enjoyment. This will promote the value and pleasure of reading and encourage an interest in reading throughout school and in later life.

At Welly we carefully select and offer a range of books for children to explore themselves as well as to share with an adult. We recognise the need to present new books, but also keep some favourites to hand for children to revisit.

Nursery rhymes and songs are crucial! Not just because they are fun and engaging for young children, but because they can make a real difference to children’s language and literacy. Research suggests that children who have a good understanding of rhyme do better in their literacy than children who have poor skills in this area.

Many nursery rhymes and songs have their own actions that can help with engaging children. Most children enjoy the combination of music and action. Many children who struggle to listen, benefit enormously from actions linked to rhymes. It encourages them to take part, engaging them in repetitive songs and rhymes, which in turn support their language development.

Children need to hear words a number of times before they really understand the meaning and then use the words as part of their own vocabulary. The joy of nursery rhymes and songs is that they introduce new words, build them into a rhyme and context (which helps children remember them) and then allow children to hear them time and again so they can make sense of the words.

At Welly we have regular big group time singing and rhyme sessions. We also introduce song throughout the day for example to welcome each other in the morning and at tidy up time.

Painting, Drawing and Mark-making

A well-planned creative environment, whether indoors or out, allows children to be self-sufficient, able to select, use and return resources independently. At Welly we think carefully about our range of paints, paper, materials, tools and surfaces. For example we provide opportunities for children to paint with water outside as well as easels indoors to allow for vertical application. 

We believe it is important that children are involved in all the aspects of the painting process, so we like to enable them to:

  • ​Fill up water pots and choose from a wide variety of media, tools and surfaces

  • Select and attach their paper or material of choice when using easels

  • Use mark-making tools to put their own name on a painting (if they choose)

  • Put the completed artwork on an accessible drying rack

  • Wash up their brushes and paint pots once they have finished.

One of the most joyful aspects of working in the early years is seeing children experiment with making marks.These are the marks that will gradually develop into writing and drawing, and which allow children to express themselves and their ideas. Even before they are able to talk fluently, we gain an insight into our children’s thinking through the marks that they make.

A key area for development in the early years is around this physical aspect of mark-making – building the strength and coordination needed to make those marks to begin with. 

​That’s why in order to develop the physical skills needed to write, we focus on lots of physical play, including activities that promote both fine and gross motor development. Children can build this core strength in all sorts of different ways – climbing, lifting, carrying buckets of water, hanging from bars and so on.

Fine motor and eye-to-hand coordination will develop through lots of activities that utilise actions like pinching, grasping, twisting, threading, squashing, and squeezing. We love to incorporate these for example, by providing sponges in an area set up as a garage, encouraging children to squeeze them out as they wash the cars in their role play. 

​We also offer activities such as threading, weaving and manipulating small items with tweezers to help build fine motor control and eye-to-hand coordination.

Although it is tempting to think about early mark-making as using a pencil, crayon, or paints, there are lots of different materials children can use to make marks. We like to include mark-making in natural materials such as mud or sand. 

We also offer different tools to make marks, including natural materials such as grasses, sticks and feathers. The key is that children are exploring the media in a way that is engaging and creative to them.

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