The secret to developing a great workforce is play

In future, vital skills our workforce develop will depend on how well they played as children.

Today, Sarah, the young mother of Thandi (4) and Jabulani (2), walked them to Cotlands Early Learning Playgroup in Cleveland. Sarah needs to go to work, so she leaves her healthy children with Annah, the early learning playgroup facilitator.

Annah is happy to see the children. Thandi knows the routine. She washes her hands and giggles as Annah takes her temperature. Annah settles everyone 1.5m apart from one another and sits on her oversized pillow so that she can look the little ones in the eye.

Lucy asks if they can sing “The wheels of the bus go round and round”. They all jump to their feet and happily join in the singing. Afterward, Annah starts with the morning routine that includes completing the weather chart and celebrating Thabo’s birthday.

At the theme table, Annah reminds everyone that they are talking about autumn. She has dried leaves on the table and a few items of warm clothing laid out on the table. She asks everyone to count the number of beanies that are being worn and they talk about the different colours and patterns. She hands out acorns to every child and tells them the story of how the hungry squirrel stockpiles acorns to have food in winter.

Annah explains the different activities. Thandi and Thabo choose to play with the clay first. After a little while, the book corner draws their attention and they flop down to “read” the stories. Across the room, Jabulani tries to build a tall tower. It keeps falling over. Thabo solves the problem and shows him to put the largest block at the bottom.

Lucy and Thandi take turns building a puzzle, while others are playing a matching game, which develops their cognitive and problem-solving skills. Annah calls Thandi and Jabulani to the maths station and they learn about a triangle. They walk on the chalk lines of the triangle which is drawn on the concrete. They pack stones on the outlines of the triangle and discover triangle shapes among other shapes.

Annah also spends time drinking tea with the boys, who make “tea” and hand her a “cookie”. She reminds the children that it's pack-up time in five minutes. The children join in a throwing and catching game outside.

The cook brings the children their lunch boxes. Annah reads a story and praises one or two children for tidying up so beautifully. Thandi and Jabulani are happy to see their mother waiting for them at the door. Jabulani happily tells his mother about the squirrel.

You may be asking yourself why this is important, or how it links to the world of a human resource specialist. But it relates 100%. The playful space Thandi and her friends had the privilege to spend time at has developed all of the skills they will need as the future workforce you will be employing in 19 years’ time.

Six million children younger than five years old live in South Africa. The majority grow up in severe poverty that brings about multiple risk factors. And a million children at risk do not have access to quality early childhood development (ECD) programmes .

Not all ECD programmes offer quality interventions for a variety of reasons. Requiring children to sit still, complete written worksheets, wear a uniform and copy writing from a board is NOT acceptable or age-appropriate.

What young children need is time and space to play, play and play some more. Children’s play is never frivolous or too much. Children must play indoors, outdoors, sometimes on their own, mostly with others and also with an adult that guides their play and includes learning as part of the play.

The kind of play I am alluding to is not playing a virtual game on a device. It’s the kind of play that gets children up, moving, running, talking, laughing and interacting with others, using play materials, toys and objects that enhance and extend their play.

The power of play lies in the fact that it comes naturally for children. Next time you are with children closely observe how they behave. They are always playful, making up games and drawing anything and anyone around them into their play. Using play as a tool to enhance children’s development is fast becoming a scientific fact.

In recent years, numerous studies focused on trying to understand the magic that happens when children participate in quality play-based learning guided by a trained practitioner. There is a definite link between play and the 21st-century skills needed by our future workforce if we want to be able to compete in a world infused with technology.

A study that includes South Africa confirms that the top five skills that are required by the future workforce are collaboration, communication, creativity, critical/analytical thinking skills and problem-solving.

The sneak peek into our playgroup reveals that all of these critical 21st-century skills are being developed through play.
Join us in celebrating World Play Day on 28 May by making time to play with children you know and care about.