Learning through play

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

3-year-old Cynthia is walking around her classroom like a tiny Ina Garten collecting pretend food and putting it into her shopping bag. As she is walking around thoughtfully squeezing avocados, the teacher asks which items she placed in her bag. She takes out the items one by one and names them correctly. Gordon Ramsay would be proud. The teacher asks Cynthia how many things she has in her bag. Cynthia counts with the help of her teacher. Cynthia then goes to her friend and says, “One for you and one for me.” The teacher praises her and says, “That was very nice of you to give the orange to your friend.”

On the other side of the room, 2 -year-old Raul is playing in the sandbox, scooping the sand and pouring it out over and over again. Move over, Benjamin Wright! He then starts scooping the sand and pouring it in the pail until it’s full. When it gets full, he knocks it over and starts all over again. The next day, when he’s playing in the sandbox, he scoops the sand and watches it pour through his hands. Then, he pinches the sand little by little to put it in the pail.

These children are hard at work... learning! Play is the most effective way for children to learn. Through play, children develop different skills:

  • Mind:

  • Cynthia learned about the amounts and kinds of different foods that fit in her bag and learned how to count the food

  • Raoul learned about quantity by measuring how much sand fits in his finger, a scooper and a pail

  • Social skills:

  • Cynthia learned to get help from her teacher and shared toys with her friend, which lend to important social skills of receptiveness and generosity

  • Pretend playing gives children the chance to explore themes they see in the real world. Cynthia has probably shopped with her mother numerous times and pretend shopping allows her to understand what that means, like picking which food to buy and sharing with friends the way her mother takes food home to feed her family

  • Langage:

  • Cynthia articulated different foods she placed in her bag and in her own way discussed them with her friend while sharing

  • Gross and fine movement skills:

  • Cynthia walked around pretending to shop and then went to her friend

  • Raul learned to delicately pick up the sand between his fingers and then poured out the sand. He also learned about deconstructivism, the non-rectilinear approach to architecture design characterized by fragmentation and redefining shapes and forms and radical manifestation of a building’s complexity. But hey, we’ll expand on that at a later age

  • Sensory:

  • Raul experienced the feeling of the sand between his fingers

It is wonderful to give children the freedom to play as they wish, but sometimes it is important as the educator or parent to join in on your child’s play and lead them to new words and ideas. The teacher prompted learning by asking Cynthia to name the different items in her bag and then again by asking her to count them. And with a little more guidance, Raul has basically completed his first year of a civil engineering major!

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