Remarkable learning through ordinary play

I am so blessed to have this season of life where I get to be a grandma and an educator at the same time.  As a grandma, I am able to take the time to observe my grandson at play and as an educator, I am able to appreciate and identify the remarkable learning that comes through ordinary play…

Remarkable Learning through Ordinary Play by Teach Preschool

Play with toys around the house or the classroom can appear to be not all that special but if you take the time to really observe a child’s ordinary play, you will see that remarkable learning and development is taking place. As you learn to be observant of the ordinary, you will also learn what role you play in fostering the remarkable…

Remarkable Learning through Ordinary Play by Teach Preschool

Sometimes the remarkable can be missed. Haphazard-looking play to intentional play to mastering new skills can happen in just one simple afternoon or over a few weeks.

For example, in just one week my grandson’s play has changed from dumping toys in and out of the top of the bus to intentionally placing toys in and out of the doorway of the bus. Ordinary play often starts out looking haphazard or chaotic but when given time to freely explore through ordinary play, remarkable growth and development is always taking place…

Remarkable Learning through Ordinary Play by Teach Preschool

Sometimes we can interrupt the remarkable. For example, my grandson was trying to open the door using the tiny outside handle of the door. My initial reaction was to show him how to reach his finger inside the door to pull it open but instead, I watched him take his time, work with his finger tips, and master the skill of pulling the door open by himself…

Remarkable Learning through Ordinary Play by Teach Preschool

Sometimes, the remarkable isn’t obvious. Now that my grandson wanted to use only the doorway to put toys in the bus, he began filling the bus with random objects from around his play space. Soon, he brought over a toy truck that was too large to fit in the doorway. To me, it was obvious that the truck wouldn’t fit through the doorway, but what wasn’t obvious is what my grandson might be learning.  Through the process of trial and error, my grandson is developing new understanding of concepts such as size, space, and shape and in time he will begin to master these kinds of concepts…

Remarkable learning through ordinary play by Teach Preschool

Fostering the remarkable through ordinary play

Here are a few ways you can help foster the remarkable through ordinary play…

  • Give children time and resources to explore the ordinary through everyday play. Remember that mastering concepts comes through different stages of play – from haphazard to intentional to mastering – and these stages will be different and look different for each child.
  • Broaden your understanding of what is happening and what you consider to be acceptable play.  As you can see above, a school bus is more that just a toy that should be rolled across the floor. If you limit a child’s ordinary play to what you think it should look like, then you might just miss out on the remarkable.
  • Be a play observer.  Sometimes, adults can unintentionally interrupt the remarkable by being too quick to “fix” or “solve” the problem. Take a minute to observe play and you might just discover something remarkable is going on.
  • Be a play partner.  A play partner doesn’t take over the play but rather models new kinds of play.  The modeling of play shouldn’t be to control or restrict the play but rather to invite new ideas for play. We have had this bus since my grandson was born and all the while as my grandson would dump the people out of the bus, I would quietly sit down and put them all back in.  This wasn’t to “correct” his play but to model the possibility for his future reference.

Remarkable learning through Ordinary play by Teach Preschool

Do you have an example of remarkable learning through ordinary play to share? Feel free share by leaving a comment below..

By |2012-12-22T12:57:18+00:00December 22nd, 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. Jill December 22, 2012 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    I saw this with my kids, with just me modeling for my oldest, she started ‘pretend play’ at about 3 years of age. My 16 month old, however, already pretends to ‘play eat’ because she has seen all of us model the same behavior, she went from picking it up and walking around with it, to putting it in her mouth to teethe on it, to pretending to eat and offering it to us to pretend to eat a bite of food MONTHS before her sister did.

    In a different vein, my 4 year old simply ignored the fact that her baby sister was nearby at library time, while an older child (who had been in preschool/day care several times a week with dozens of other kids for 2 years), hovered over the toys she had chosen, wailing at me to ‘come get my baby’. I had a hard time not giggling when my child said ‘she’s only a baby’ and kept on playing. I’m not sure how many times I explained that babies ‘take a toy for a minute and then give it back’ and that you can always ask for something if you need it or ask an adult for help. I hadn’t realized that she hadn’t hoarded her toys for a few months and was sharing BETTER than an older child who was exposed to LOTS of other kids on a regular basis!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm - Reply

      Isn’t it amazing the development that takes place and so much of it would be easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention. I love how your older child is so well balanced! You are definitely fostering the remarkable and enjoying it along the way. It is so much fun!


  2. MIRIAM FERNANDEZ BORASO December 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    such a nice grand son! he is very smart! & he’s lucky to have u as his grandmother & educator!
    seasons’s greetings!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm - Reply

      Season’s Greetings to you Miriam!


  3. Courtney December 23, 2012 at 8:32 am - Reply

    Oh, Deb, I love this one! You have such unique perspective in that you have an infant, toddler, and preschoolers to observe on a daily basis. This post was awesome! Wish more parents and educators had this same understanding!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 24, 2012 at 3:08 pm - Reply

      It is a unique time in my life and what a blessing to have you around to share it with me. I sure am going to miss you next year Courtney!!

  4. Laura Englehart December 23, 2012 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    The other day in my preschool classroom I gave the children each a basket of pattern blocks. My goal was that they learned to place them edge to edge on the table. They taught me that they had other ideas in mind. I saw some stack them. Some sorted them by color. While others laid them on their edge vertically and began to build towers. Learning occurred because I allowed each child to engage with the materials at their own level.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm - Reply

      You are sooooooooo right on Laura! I love that you stood back and observed the magic – that is the best teaching you could have possibly done. It never ceases to amaze me the direction kids will take something like you described. What I think would be interesting or should be the goal is often totally revised by my students too! Love your comment and thank you for adding to this discussion!

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