Ways to incorporate learning into play

Play isn’t all fun and games. Both free play and guided play can foster creativity and learning in young children.

Play stimulates a child’s imagination and encourages problem solving. It arouses curiosity, leading to creativity, risk-taking and discovery. During play, parents and caregivers should enrich the environment with objects that provide learning opportunities for the children. While the child is playing, the adult also can comment on his discoveries, ask open-ended questions or help the child explore the materials in new ways.

Find out more about how to encourage play >>

Learning through play

When selecting objects, games and toys for your child, you want to find things that will contribute to his cognitive, emotional, physical and social development… and be fun too. The items have to be interesting enough that your child will want to play with them.

For toddlers and preschoolers, balls will help them learn to throw and catch through physical play. Blocks encourage fine motor skills. Musical instruments are great for hand-eye coordination. Colorful, textured books can foster language and literacy. Puppets, dress-up clothes or a play kitchen (with dishes, cooking utensils, etc.) will lead to imaginative play. This role-playing will help develop your child’s imagination, as well as social skills, self-confidence, language, sharing and more.

Read about why you should encourage imaginary play >>

Types of learning and play

For outdoor discovery play, consider sandboxes and water trays for exploration. Creative play encourages your child to experiment and express his own ideas. Set up a simple arts and crafts station in your home with paper, scissors, paint, markers, play dough and other items. Train sets, construction toys (such as Legos) and puzzles are fantastic constructive play options for this age-group.

In addition to toys and objects that help develop a child’s fine motor skills, play should also include items that develop his gross motor skills. Gross motor skills are necessary to control large muscles of the body for walking, running and other activities. Slides, play tunnels, trampolines, ride-on toys, climbing frames and rope ladders are all examples that develop coordination, balance and physical play while stimulating the child with adventure.

Also encourage young children to play simple board games (such as Candyland), as well as popular “old school” games such as tag, leap frog, follow the leader and hide-and-seek. Though television, video games and computers may have their place in learning, these passive entertainment tools are not part of active play.

Novelty, discovery, trial and error, social interaction and other elements of play are also the components of learning. Therefore, play and learning go hand in hand. By providing your child with several well-chosen toys and games for educational play, you’ll be able to help him grow and learn.

Learn more about why children need to play more >>

More playtime tips

The importance of play
Lessons to teach while playing house
Lessons to teach while playing with blocks