Play: It’s the Way Young Children Learn (page 2)

— Action Alliance for Children
Updated on Jul 19, 2010

When children play, they learn skills that contribute to school success

Using one thing to represent another

Through pretend play, children learn to use their imaginations to represent objects, people, and ideas.

What you see:
  • A toddler flaps her arms, pretending to be a butterfly
  • Another picks up a banana, holds it to his ear like a telephone, and says, “Hello.”
  • A preschooler builds a firehouse with blocks.
How it promotes school success:

If children can use one thing to represent something else, it’s easier for them to understand that letters represent sounds and numbers represent quantities. And later on they will be able to their imaginations to visualize historical events or scientific ideas.

Using language and telling stories

Through pretend play, children develop their skills in using language and in telling and understanding stories.

What you see:
  • Children act out scenes in the housekeeping corner
  • A child makes her stuffed animal "talk" telling a story
How it promotes school success:

Oral language skills and storytelling are the building blocks of reading and writing, as well as subjects like social studies and science.

Using experimentation and logic

When children play with materials such as blocks, clay, sand, and water, they develop skills in logic. They experiment with cause and effect, with counting and sorting things and solving problems.

What you see:
  • Children experiment with blocks to figure out how to build a stable structure
  • Children count the number of cups needed for a "tea party"
  • Children pour sand into different sized containers.

How it promotes school success:

This practice in experimenting, observing, comparing, and working with shapes, sizes, and quantities forms the basis for understanding math and science and for all higher-order thinking.

Developing self control and social skills

As children share materials and play together, they learn to cooperate, listen to others, stand up for their own ideas, handle frustration, and empathize.

What you see:
  • Children negotiate over roles in dramatic play: "We can both be pilots if we have two seats."
  • One child cries and another says, "Don&'t worry, your mom is coming soon."
How it promotes school success:

Many studies have shown that kids with good social skills and emotional health do better in school and are more likely to avoid dangerous behavior as teenagers. Through play, children develop their ability to form relationships with other children and with teachers.

Learning to enjoy learning

When children do activities they have chosen, learning is enjoyable. It’s based on their own interests and gives them a sense of competence.

What you see:
  • Classrooms organized with different activity centers (blocks, dramatic play, painting and drawing, reading, science, etc.)
  • Children encouraged to choose their own activities.
How it promotes school success:

Studies show that children's attitudes of curiosity, motivation, and competence are key to success in elementary school.

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