Play is the process by which children are learning

“Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning.”  This quote by Fred Rogers is one that I have always enjoyed and strive to keep in mind as I plan for each day in my classroom.

"Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning." ~Fred Rogers

There are so many things to say about the value of play in the preschool classroom and yet it is often one of the most difficult concepts to explain to parents and other adults when asked, “How can the children be learning when all they do is play all day?”

"Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning." ~Fred Rogers

Observe Play

To answer this question, one actually has to know what kinds of learning is actually happening through children’s play. Observing children at play is the first step we take towards recognizing what kinds of learning is taking place through play.

"Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning." ~Fred Rogers

Talk about Play

We also talk about play a lot! Observing play helps my staff and I to pay attention to what is happening but talking about play helps us to verbalize what is happening. We often find that we can observe the same activity in the classroom and yet come away with entirely different observations. By talking about our observations, we are enlightened by each other and are practicing the skill of verbalizing the value of play.

"Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning." ~Fred Rogers

Reflect on Play

My assistant teachers and I spend a great deal of time reflecting on how the role of play is being used to achieve our objectives in the classroom. We spend time talking about what the children did, how they responded, what they seemed to understand, what skills they are mastering, and what they seem to be learning through their play. By reflecting on play, my staff and I are better able to appreciate play, understand play, recognize the role of play in learning, and plan for future play experiences.

"Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning." ~Fred Rogers

Plan for Play

Planning for play also helps give us the ability to speak more easily about the role of play in our classroom. For example, if we want the children to explore and talk about the different bones of a human body we start by asking the question, “How can my students explore the bones of a human body through play?”  I call this “planning for play.”  Planning for play helps my staff and I to more easily answer the question, “what are the children are learning?” We can speak so much more fluidly to the objectives of play when we have included play in our planning right from the very start.

"Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning." ~Fred Rogers

Prepare for Play

The classroom environment is a critical component for learning through play. Everything in the classroom should be contributing in some way to the child’s experience. Everything in the classroom should be designed for building independence. Everything in the classroom should be hands-on. Everything in the classroom should be intentional. If the classroom environment is designed for play, then one can speak easily as to how play is contributing to the child’s growth and development as well as the kinds of learning taking place. If I want my students to work cooperatively, solve a puzzle, and discuss the parts of the human body then I need to make sure I have provided the materials, space, time and opportunities for them to explore the process fully and independently.

"Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning." ~Fred Rogers

Believe in Play

Before anyone can speak confidently about the value of play or the types of learning a child can achieve through play, one has to actually believe that young children really can and really do learn through play. I often hear folks say, “I allow my students to play in centers twice a day.” or “My students get 45 minutes of free play every morning.” I am beginning to realize that if one truly believes that play is the foundation for real and meaningful learning to take place then those same statements could be translated as, “I allow my students to learn twice a day” or “My students get to learn for 45 minutes every morning.” Would this be what is intended?

You see, we might be confusing parents. If play is the foundation by which young children achieve true, meaningful, and lasting learning, then play (or free play) can’t be spoken about as if it is a “break from learning.” Instead play must be spoken about as the path towards learning…

"Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning." ~Fred Rogers

Communicate Play as Learning

This morning, I read a book to the children about human skeleton bones. it was a pretty simple book but I was hoping it would inspire some interest in the material I had out in the classroom.

After we read a book about human skeletons, the children spent the rest of the morning learning all about skeleton bones by exploring the concept of bones all around the classroom.

The children talked about bones, dug for bones, weighed and measured bones, and even tried making some of their own bones out of clay.  

Some of the children worked cooperatively to recreate the human skeleton using each other as their human template.

Some of the children found the clay super engaging and boy did they work those fine motor skills forming all different sizes of bones out of that clay!

I was completely blown away by how much the children already knew about human skeletons as I listened to their conversations throughout the day.

When the children are so engaged in learning, it is always hard to break the news that it’s time to stop, clean-up, and get ready for snack but since the children had so much fun and time to explore, they were ready for a good snack and everyone pitched in to get the job done.

To Play is to Learn

The examples I have shared today focus on a more planned form of play in that I have prepared the environment and set the stage for play to revolve around a specific topic in my prekindergarten classroom. But it is important to note that all forms of play (natural and planned) have value but the word “play” or “play-based” can easily be misconstrued or convoluted if it is not fully understood. I love this article titled “Why I hate play based learning” by Happiness is Here Blog. If you haven’t read it yet, I think it shares some good things to consider as we continue our journey towards giving young children healthy and true play-based experiences.

"Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning." ~Fred Rogers

Young children need time to investigate their environment, build new skills, develop new understanding, master new concepts, recognize how to get along with others, strengthen daily life skills, realize their creative potential, establish healthy attitudes about themselves, life, and learning – and they can do this all through play.

Available on Amazon

Links to Grow On

Learning about the Skeleton Inside You by Teach Preschool

14 Fun Flower Activities for Preschoolers by Teach Preschool

The Power of Play by Teach Preschool

By |2016-04-04T20:00:30+00:00April 4th, 2016|

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. Sara @ Happiness is here April 4, 2016 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    Thank you Deb 🙂

  2. Scott April 5, 2016 at 11:28 am - Reply

    Deborah, This is a wonderful post. And the pictures are priceless. What a fun way to explore and “play with” the skeleton and to build understanding about it and the connection to the body.

    Your words about play resonate with me so much. I’ve been thinking and learning more about being intentional in what I do in the classroom and your words about thinking specifically about learning through play remind me again to do that.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 5, 2016 at 10:48 pm - Reply

      Hi Scott,
      You are I are such kindred spirits that I can’t imagine you need any reminding about the learning through play! Thank you for always being so supportive of all I do!


  3. Judy Weinrich April 5, 2016 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    Hi Deborah, I love all your posts, and use many of the explorations you share! You mentioned that many teachers have a limited time frame for play. In your classroom, do you have play for the entire time the children are in session ,except for the snack time, reading a book, and music? You’ve shared wonderful explorations, which I use, and I’m just wondering if you ask small groups of children or individual children to join you, for example, at a math exploration-task, or let them visit the station whenever they would like. Thank you so much for your inspirational posts! I love them! Judy

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 5, 2016 at 11:04 pm - Reply

      Hi Judy,
      Each year is a little different depending on the children we serve but this year our schedule is pretty much as follows…
      – The math table is open as soon as the children walk into the classroom. The children sign in then head over to the math table to explore the materials I have out for them that day. For those who lose interest or choose – they can also sit in the library area to work on puzzles, read, or play the games I have there.
      – As soon as everyone arrives and we get settled in, then we start our morning circle which always includes our book, helper, weather, and often a large group game or music.
      – After morning circle, we take a mini tour of the classroom to talk about anything the children might need to know and to draw the children’s interest in the different materials we have available for them in the center. This isn’t a long drawn out tour, just a quick “Let’s see what we got going on around here today!”
      – Then the children are free to explore the centers the rest of the morning until snack time. I really wish we had more time in our day because I still often feel like I haven’t given the children enough time for play but they are usually ready to wrap things up by snack time.

      The children may visit a station anytime they like. As the children explore the centers, we will sometimes sit with the children to explore with them or encourage new thinking and ideas. And sometimes we stay out of the way and just observe. At our morning math table, I often join the children to give them prompts, elaborate on new thinking, but the materials are designed to be very open ended and yet still yield new understanding.

      – After snack, the children read on their own for a few minutes while waiting for everyone to finish up. Then we gather up as a large group to prepare for the rest of our day. Sometimes a new book, sometimes singing, and sometimes a game.
      – Then we head outside to play either in our play yard, our outdoor classroom, or both depending on the weather and the day.
      – At the very end of our day, the children join me back in the indoor classroom for our only true guided group time activity of the day. It is usually something related to math or science but not always.
      – Then it is time for everyone to get back packs on and get ready to go.

      Our schedule in terms of time is pretty flexible but the routine or order of the day pretty much always stays the same.

      I hope this helps!!


  4. Sabuhi Imam April 5, 2016 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    Thank You!

  5. Norah Colvin April 6, 2016 at 2:37 am - Reply

    Play seems to be the theme for this week. I wrote a post about play and I have read a number of posts about play, including this one by Kristi Mraz on Kinderconfidential It is an important theme and one that can’t be shared too often. I enjoyed reading about your children’s responses. The photos are delightful.

  6. Mubashar April 8, 2016 at 3:35 am - Reply

    Play seems to be the theme for this week.

  7. Janney Marin April 26, 2016 at 5:51 am - Reply

    This is true, play helps young children to learn and develop their physical, emotional and intellectual skills so learning through play is one of the best ways to enhance children’s skills. Nowadays many private school are using these kind of methods for enhancing a child’s skills.

Leave A Comment

This site uses 'cookies' to give you the best, most relevant experience. Using the website means you're OK with this. Ok