What Does Play-Based Learning Look Like?
At Valley Childcare and Learning Centers, our early learning programs are “play-based.” For many parents, this may seem counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t learning and play be two separate things?
For young children, the best way to learn is through play! That’s why at Valley Learning Centers, children spend their days developing foundational skills by building blocks, playing make-believe, painting, and creating with playdough. All of the play-based activities are designed by early childhood educators to target developmental milestones for young children.
So what does play-based learning look like? Here are some simple activities and how they help children build important foundational skills:
Also called pretend play, dramatic play is any type of play where children engage in role-playing. It can be encouraged by giving kids access to dress-up clothes and recreating everyday places. Common dramatic play centers include a play kitchen with pretend food, a pretend restaurant, and a pretend store.
Dramatic play helps children develop many social-emotional skills. It helps them practice self-regulation because children are motivated to follow the rules of the make-believe scenario they’ve created. It also encourages cooperation and problem solving between children. They must navigate their pretend world while also sharing materials and agreeing upon the “rules.”
Children can also practice literacy and math skills through pretend play. Simple things like labeling objects with words and including a pretend menu or sign expose children to different ways text is used in the world. In a pretend store, children can count out money and items for purchase, allowing them to practice their foundational math skills.
Building materials, like blocks and Legos, create an open-ended play opportunity. They also encourage the development of a variety of cognitive and physical skills.
When building, children must use problem-solving skills to plan and adapt their structures. They use math and engineering skills to determine if a structure will be stable, and they often have to regroup and try a different strategy when it falls. They’re likely also using the scientific method when they play with blocks: making predictions about if a plan will work and then testing that hypothesis.
Building materials also promote gross and fine motor development. When children lift heavy or bulky blocks, they are developing their large muscle groups or developing gross motor skills. Manipulating small blocks like Legos encourages fine motor development, as children have to use their fingers to place small pieces together.
Even if you can’t see the beauty in the masterpieces your child creates, you can appreciate all the ways art supports your child’s development. Activities that include manipulating a paintbrush, crayon, or marker help develop important fine motor skills children will need for writing later on. Using scissors also helps strengthen the muscles in the hand, which will make writing with a pencil much easier.
Art also encourages children to express themselves. Young children often lack the verbal skills to share what they are feeling, but drawing or using color can help them express their emotions. Many child psychologists use art therapy as a way to get children to open up. The more children practice drawing or painting, the better equipped they will be to share their emotions and experiences through art.
A classic play center in preschools for decades, the sensory table always attracts kids. It might look like mindless play, but children are exploring through their senses, developing motor skills, practicing positive social skills, and so much more.
The benefits of a sensory table depend upon what’s inside. Hiding letters among water beads is a great way to support children’s letter recognition. Providing measuring cups in different sizes in a sand table encourages scientific exploration. Children can practice their fine motor skills by picking up small objects like pom poms with a pair of tweezers.
The sensory table is often very popular in the preschool classroom. Children practice sharing the space with others and using patience while they wait for their turn to play.