We all know that kids love to play, but it used to be that teachers considered play and learning mutually exclusive. We now know that for young children, play actually drives learning—which is great news for kids! If a school bases its curriculum on play, that doesn’t mean the kids run wild all day. Rather, it means that teachers honor the inherent curiosity and playfulness of children and intentionally direct their questions, interests, and energy to help them gain skills appropriate for young learners.
If a school bases its curriculum on play, that doesn’t mean the kids run wild all day.
How does play foster learning? Young children are learning constantly, and just about every “fun” activity also stimulates growth in multiple areas. Playing with blocks develops manual dexterity, spatial awareness, perception of patterns, and foundational math skills. Playing dress-up can lead to inquiries about social roles, jobs, textiles, and design. Playing with ice cubes in a bucket of water may lead to learning who said “Eureka!” and why, how fluids differ from solids, and what global warming might imply. Playground time helps children become better at social interactions, problem solving, collaboration and communication, and gross motor skills.
Play opens kids to learning about all sorts of topics in ways that are fun, rewarding, memorable, and often self-directed. It also encourages self-regulation, imagination, creativity, social engagement, and self-confidence. Not least, play-based early learning helps children develop a positive attitude toward school right from the start.
- What is your philosophy around play and learning?
- How do you encourage play in ways that stimulate questions, investigation, and excitement?
- Are your teachers involved in the children’s play, and how?
- Turn off any screens and give your kids time to develop their own games or activities. Don’t be afraid to play along with your children—but let them lead the way!
- Boredom can be good! Don’t plan out every minute of the day—“down time” often stimulates kids to develop their own ways of entertaining themselves.
- Make things available that stimulate the imagination and engage the senses. Paints, playdough, sand, blocks, even kitchen items and old clothes can all become magical playthings for little people.
- Get outdoors and explore! Mother nature offers lots of playthings and play spaces.
- Organize play dates with friends. This is a great opportunity for your child to navigate social skills and develop play skills with their peers.