What Nursery Can Give That Playdates Can’t

Our experts flag five ways nursery offers children that little bit more…

Aside from beginning to develop skills to learn to read and write, nursery offers a wealth of opportunities for children’s development that enrich their learning, social skills and school readiness. Take a look at our top five below.


Learning how to make friends is a skill that we refine throughout our lives – and developing and practicing social skills is important from an early age. Children will develop these skills at different stages, dependent on their age and stage of development. Nursery provides many opportunities for children to practice their social and communication skills:

  • Learning to share and take turns
    Toddlers don’t yet know that they are separate and individual people and so don’t understand that things can also belong to other people, not just to them. Nursery provides opportunities to develop the critical skills of self-regulation, empathy and resolving conflicts – all of which help children learn how to share through fun and co-operative activities with others.
  • Friendships
    Playing alongside, and with other children benefits development in so many ways. Making friends can be easier for some than others. In nursery, qualified educators carefully observe children’s developing social skills and provide sensitive support to help them make friends.
  • Diversity
    At nursery children meet others who are different from them, with different personalities, families, ways of life, beliefs and values. As your child’s world is opened up to new and exciting people, they are helped to become kind and accepting of others.


Sensory play includes any activities that stimulate children's senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing, and supports cognitive growth; such as thinking, understanding and reasoning. Other benefits include:

  • Development of children’s vocabulary, speech, language skills
    During nursery activities children are asked questions; encouraged to describe textures and talk about what they’re doing – great ways to enrich their vocabulary. Their social skills, cooperation and turn-taking can also be further developed.
  • Supporting school readiness
    Children enjoy taking part in fun, stimulating activities, which encourage them to get excited about learning. Playing at the sand or water table, getting messy with clay, paints or gloop are all regular nursery activities, and the best thing is: homes stay clean and tidy!


A key aspect of school readiness is independence. It can be easier and quicker to do things for your child. Nursery helps them to become more independent and responsible, learn to take care of themselves and increases their confidence. As well as tasks like putting on their coat, feeding themselves, fastening shoes or using a potty or toilet, nursery also encourages:

  • Freedom to choose their own activities
    With the many activities at nursery, children have the choice of what, where and who they’d like to play with. Children can choose child-led or adult-led activities, whether they’d like to play outside or indoors, enabling them to make decisions confidently.
  • Learning to work independently
    Having the choice to be part of a group or play by themselves enables children to think for themselves, be independent, overcome challenges, and gain satisfaction from their achievements.
  • Self-regulation
    Nursery presents opportunities where children are supported with their ‘big emotions’, helping them learn how to cope with their feelings. Environments are carefully planned to provide supervised, developmentally appropriate risks in play, as well as activities that require children to think creatively and solve problems. This type of play develops children’s self-regulatory skills.


With the abundance of activities and resources readily available for children to explore, there are opportunities to develop skills and concepts that they might not necessarily have access to at home, for example:

  • Helping to prepare snacks
    Cutting up fruit and spreading crackers might be something children haven’t had the opportunity to do at home, but they often enjoy taking part in, along with their peers. This develops fine motor skills and math concepts such as quantity, measurement and problem solving.
  • Exploring new materials and ideas
    As children manipulate and explore new things, they learn to understand new concepts, such as sink and float by engaging in water play.
  • Using outdoor play equipment
    Climbing frames, bikes, trikes, and other outdoor play equipment help children develop large motor skills, using their bodies to climb, grip, pedal and balance, increasing their ability and confidence simultaneously. As multiple children may be using the equipment at the same time, they also learn spatial awareness, whilst expanding their communication and language skills.


At nursery clear boundaries, routine and regular social interaction with children of a similar age and other adults, helps to develop personal, social and emotional skills.

  • Schedules, routines and rules
    These help children’s understanding of what is expected and when, which helps them to take changes of routine in their stride.
  • Defined boundaries and structured play
    Children are supported in their learning to play co-operatively, take turns and learn friendly behaviour towards others. This encourages positive and respectful relationships and teaches children vital cognitive skills about behaviour.
  • Group play
    Playing in groups helps children learn to be sensitive to others’ needs and feelings, learn to resolve conflict, listen to others and ask questions. They also learn about their own feelings and how to express them appropriately, improving self-awareness and the confidence to ask for help if they need it.

Read our '8 ways children can benefit from a nursery environment' blog.