The power of play in the early learning environment

“How will my child be prepared for school if all he does is play?” This is a fair and common question that is often asked by parents of preschoolers and a question that can often be difficult for preschool teachers to answer.  It isn’t because the teachers don’t know the answer – but to sum up the value of play in the learning process in one short answer is not so easy to do…

Part of the reason it is so difficult to explain how children learn by play is because play isn’t simple – it is instead complex.  Learning through play is not about children wondering aimlessly around a room dumping baskets and throwing blocks. Instead, learning through play takes a carefully prepared environment that invites young children to explore, examine, question, predict, test, investigate, trial, error, and manipulate…

Through play, learning is different for every child because every child is learning at his own pace, learning in his own style, and guided by his own interests…

So how will play help young children be prepared for school? Through play, learning is in-depth, concrete, and long-term. Play offers young children the opportunity to put into action the ideas and processes being presented so that concepts and ideas make sense and the processes can be mastered…

The best way to evaluate the power of play in any classroom is to observe children at play and then reflect on how their play is facilitating or empowering young children to reach desired learning goals and outcomes…

Another question often asked by parents is “How will my child learn his letters and numbers (academics) through play?” This is also a fair question to ask so it is important to understand and to be able to explain the difference between intellectual learning and Academic Learning…

Academic learning by definition is the stuff that is clear like the alphabet, it’s no logic, it just has to be memorized. Intellectual Learning has to do with reasoning,  hypothesizing, predicting, theorizing, and so forth and that’s natural. Academic learning does need to take place but academic learning will take place within the service of the intellect. (Lilian Katz in a discussion on STEM on Bam Radio).  And the most powerful way to facilitate intellectual learning is through play.

The photos shared here today are from some of our own classroom experiences. As I plan for next school year, I am using the term “Powered by Play” as my guiding force for the plans I make. For each concept or idea or learning goal we hope to achieve, I am asking myself – “How can we promote, facilitate or reinforce this skill or concept through a play experience?”

I have been sharing these posters on  Teach Preschool on Facebook to hopefully inspire and enlighten others about the power of play in the preschool classroom as well as to help me continue to reflect and learn how I can best teach young children through their play in my own classroom…

Available on Amazon


Links to Grow On

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) by Teach Preschool

Teaching a Play Based Curriculum by Teacher Tom

Play ideas on Pinterest

Outdoor Play on Pinterest

By |2012-07-26T01:53:20+00:00July 26th, 2012|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Dave Berglund July 26, 2012 at 2:17 am - Reply

    Great article and spot on. Children learn naturally through play. It is through play that children develop the critical skills of creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. Learning is naturally fun and there is great value to time spent in seemingly “unproductive” activities.

    Best Regards, Dave B.

  2. Mud Hut Mama July 26, 2012 at 2:36 am - Reply

    This post is one of the reasons why I love your site so much!

  3. Diane Quigley-Clune July 26, 2012 at 7:20 am - Reply

    Your posters say it all, love them!

  4. Susan Case July 26, 2012 at 7:21 am - Reply

    Yet another wonderful post. I love your definitions and the photos are fabulous illustrations on how children learn through play.

  5. Wendy July 26, 2012 at 9:13 am - Reply

    Love the article right on point with how children learn through play…the posters are simple and straight to the point.

  6. Yvette Jaquish July 26, 2012 at 10:48 am - Reply

    I teach a high school class on child development. Each week my high school students teach our preschool students. Can I please share your article with them on the importance of play in learning. They believe learning is not fun and if the kids are having fun they are not teaching. (Maybe that says something about my teaching).

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 26, 2012 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      Haha – I don’t think it says anything about your teaching – I suspect many other secondary students are having the same beliefs. Sounds like High Schoolers could use a bit more learning through play too:) Of course, please share it with your students. I have two high school students that “work” with me over the summer and they are always playing with the materials we make!

  7. Amanda July 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    Love this! What a great way to show the power of play and that children need play to learn. Thank you so much!

  8. Alicia Breña July 26, 2012 at 7:55 pm - Reply

    Hi Beborah!I am Kindergarten Teacher from Spain working in Beijing, and i have to say that i love your website!!! I have taken many ideas from here and children and colleges love them so much! You are such an inspiration for me!!Thanks a lot!!I¨ll keep reading it!! 😉

    • Alicia Breña July 26, 2012 at 8:08 pm - Reply

      Sorry!!I meant Deborah!!ups!!! :-S

  9. Carrie July 26, 2012 at 9:01 pm - Reply

    Hi Deborah… I love the simplicity of this post. We give our parents at open house a sheet that talks about what children are learning in each area. I’m thinking I may take this idea and run with it though. Simple yet informative. thanks!

  10. Lesley @ early play July 26, 2012 at 10:48 pm - Reply

    This is a great resource thanks, and love the pinterest links

  11. Leora August 5, 2012 at 8:19 am - Reply

    The power of play is the best start! I am so enjoying both your posters on Facebook and your blog. I tutor in the early learning and child care department at the local college and one of the first things I did was send your link to those students. You are a great resource!!

  12. Jennifer August 8, 2012 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    I would love to make your “power of play” images into posters to use in the classroom for parents to see. Would that be ok?

  13. Diane Major June 28, 2018 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    Hi Deborah

    Is it possible to buy the high res version of Powered by Play images for use in our pre-school.

    Kind regards

    • Lauren Barkes June 29, 2018 at 9:36 am - Reply

      Hi Diane!

      We do not have those available for purchase at this time but it is something we are working on 🙂

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