Playing is Learning

Play allows children to use their creativity while developing imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children, at a very young age, engage and interact in and through the world around them.

We hope you enjoy and benefit from this article which explores the academic skills that young children develop when they explore, practice, experiment with and refine their skills when learning through play.

Let's play with blocks!

The un-trained eye may just see a tower when watching a child build with blocks. But in preschool, we see these math skills developing in young children as they build:

  • Patterns
  • Size relationships
  • Geometry
  • Equality and inequality
  • Part/whole relationships
  • Measurement
  • Fractions
  • Symmetry
  • Adding, dividing, subtracting
  • Classification
  • Quantity
  • Volume
  • Length

Let's Pretend: Dramatic Play

When young children engage and explore their world through dramatic play, they learn problem solving, critical thinking, self-expression and engage and hone their imagination.

Let's Draw

When young children draw, they:

  • learn how to hold a pencil or other drawing implement and to control the pressure of using it well
  • build eye-hand coordination
  • exercise their creativity and imagination
  • learn and understand that their ideas have value
  • grasp the concepts of color, shape, size and location
  • express themselves with words when describing their drawings

Snips and Glue: Making Collages

Do you remember making a collage when you were young? You carefully looked for and arranged interesting images and then glued them in place. Your child learns this when making a collage:

  • To exercise his or her imagination and creativity
  • Concepts of shape, size, location and design, all of which are relevant to reading
  • Different textures
  • How to create a pattern and/or a design, a math skill
  • To distinguish patterns from a background, a reading skill

Climbing Equipment

Does your child enjoy scaling the jungle gym, either alone or with others? Maybe your child is just learning to try this new activity. When he or she engages in climbing, your son or daughter:

  • Gains physical strength, coordination and balance
  • Uses his or her imagination
  • Learns to cooperate with others when involved in group play
  • Learns how to solve problems
  • Builds self-confidence when developing a new skill

Time for Play-Dough

When your child plays with play dough, a favorite activity for many, he or she not only exercises imagination and creativity, but also:

  • Sees the shape against the background of the table, a pre-reading skill
  • Discovers concepts of shape, size, length and height
  • Experiences ‘negative space’ when cookie cutter shapes are taken away
  • Expresses feelings, especially negative ones, through squeezing and pounding
  • Learns that the quantity remains the same, even when the shape changes

Stringing Beads

A popular activity in preschool or Pre-K is stringing colored beads. This simple activity is chockfull of learning and development opportunities:

  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Concepts of color, shape and location
  • Number concepts like more, less, longer and shorter
  • Creating and reproducing patterns
  • Building pride and accomplishment

Sing a Song

The beautiful melody of young children singing cannot be beat! Their sweet faces and minds, working together in song, may bring a smile to your face, but they are also:

  • Learning the principles of music and rhythm
  • Building vocabulary
  • Increasing memory skills and sequencing
  • Becoming conscious of others
  • Learning the various concepts emphasized in songs
  • Building phonetic and auditory discrimination, that is, recognizing the differences in sounds, a necessary step to reading
  • Becoming aware of and identifying with his or her culture and other cultures

Let's read a story.

Books are amazing passports to adventure and stories help us all expand on and relate to life. Looking at books in preschool and Pre-K and listening to stories helps young children to:

  • Know that books are important and enjoyable
  • Understand that print is written-down words
  • Express their own thoughts, feelings and ideas
  • Exercise their imaginations
  • Learn that pictures can tell something, just like words
  • Make up their own stories
  • Handle books with care
  • Recognize certain words when they see them in print
  • Use more complex language patterns in their own speech
  • Follow the development of thoughts and ideas in the plot of a story
  • Realize that they like books and that someday they would like to be able to read them, too, when they are ready

In the Sensory Tub

Interesting items, textures, and materials for all to explore, the sensory tub gives young children the opportunity to:

  • Exercise their imaginations
  • Develop concepts of size, shape and volume, empty and full
  • Learn how to use tools
  • Solve problems
  • Develop concepts of warm and cool; wet, damp and dry; heavy and light
  • Play socially with others
  • Create systems for classifying, ordering and arranging – important math skills
  • Observe changes, a science skill

It's Meeting Time

Come to the circle and let’s share together. Meeting time is an important component of every day at preschool and Pre-K. Here’s why:

  • Young children learn to listen, sit still, and understand spoken words.
  • “My ideas have value to the other children and the teacher.”
  • “I need to wait my turn when someone else is talking.”
  • Young children remember the words of songs or poems shared in meeting time, and they learn to put things in proper order, gaining a sense of time.
  • “I learned the names of others in my group.”
  • They learn to help plan what the group will do.

Prayer Time

Daily prayers help young children to develop and reach their spiritual, social and emotional milestones. When participating in daily prayer, young children develop a sense of community, a sense of belonging, and they demonstrate an understanding of religious expression.


When we teach our children to sing The Flag Song: Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue, our young students learn about our country and patriotism, while enhancing cognitive and literacy development. They learn to recognize the flag of the our country, the United States of America, while they participate in classroom daily routines. 

In the Box

Items place in a box are shown to young children and then they are removed and asked to describe and discuss the items, thus increasing cognitive, creative and literacy development. This activity increases a child’s vocabulary. They explore the nature of matter, learn about their sense of touch, and use scientific inquiry as they try to guess what is in the box.

Puppet Play

When puppets are used for story telling, young children increase their cognitive, creative and literacy development. Puppets allow children to use a variety of materials to demonstrate and represent their understanding of a story’s text.

Guess and Share Bag

In this milestone activity—which supports a wealth of development including spiritual, social, emotional, cognitive, creative and literacy—each child in class takes turns providing a “secret item” for the classroom Guess and Share Bag. During meeting time, children listen to clues given by the “share person” and they make predictions about what the item is that is in the bag.

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