Children and Play

The subject of child care or preschool tends to come up around me. Families often ask me, Do you like the school? What does it cost? Is it part-time or full time? Those types of questions don’t cause me pause, but one question always does.  And, it’s this: Are they teaching anything?

Side note: I have wondered which emoji’s would best depict my initial reaction to this question.

How do I begin to answer that question? I devoted the greater part of my life to early childhood education (ECE). Each day I had the privilege to work with amazing individuals – early childhood professionals, knowledgeable in identifying the skills children demonstrated and trained to provide developmentally appropriate activities to promote more skills. Every part of everyday was a teaching moment. Even the unplanned events were transformed into learning experiences. (i.e. Signage being erected outside, an ant hill noticed on the way in from the playground, unexpected snowflakes falling outside, watching the delivery of new air conditioning units on the roof or a spider building a web in the window of the classroom).

Whether it be public or private, center-based, home-based, faith-based, full time or part time, qualitychild care provides developmentally appropriate instruction with intentionality and the flexibility to include “on-the-spot” experiences. There is a method to the madness, so to speak. Early childhood professionals offer a multitude of play-based learning experiences during the child’s day to “teach” young children life application skills, early academic skills and those very important social and emotional skills. The early childhood teacher knows these skills overlap and blend to develop the whole child.

Example: A child playing in the block center.

The general population may see a child stacking a plethora of shapes on top of each other. The trained eyes of an early childhood professional observes some of the following: Designing and building simple to complex structures. Spatial awareness. Discovering cause and effect (Yes, tumbling structures can cause meltdowns) and hypothesizing and predicting outcomes. Problem solving. Sorting blocks by size, color or shape. Counting blocks, dividing blocks and determining more or less. Working independently or cooperatively (May I play with you? -social skill – To hearing a possible response of no – emotional skill and self-regulation). Building vocabulary, making comparisons, creating patterns. Fine motor skills. Writing and early literacy skills. And, the list goes on! (Now, you know what I meant when I said where do I begin.)

Then, the early childhood professional asks themselves what materials can be added to expand (scaffold) the activity to areas of social studies, mathematical thinking, emergent literacy, science and technology, language, art and cognitive skills.  All this in the block center!

Early childhood professionals recognize valuable teaching moments in everyday activities such as:

  • independently hanging up or putting on a jacket
  • counting classmates to set a table with corresponding number of plates and cups
  • opening containers
  • washing and drying hands
  • filling a cup with water and carrying to the easel
  • asking for help or offering to help a classmate with a task (rather than the teacher)
  • participating in a group activity
  • working cooperatively to pick up and clean up

These activities develop the whole child and addresses many different subject areas.

Keep in mind, none of us were born knowing how to stand in a line or how to wait our turn.

And,good news! You are offering many similar experiences all the time! So, continue PLAYINGwith your child.

The next time you talk with someone about a child care program or visit a program, I encourage you to ask all kinds of questions including this:

 “How do you incorporate play into the child’s day?”

To learn more about the value of play and how you can add to your child’s play experiences, check out these articles:

The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children


 10 Things Every Parent Should know About Playby Laurel Bongiorno

Learning Through Play by Shelley Butler


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