Play-Based Learning

“A simple object such as a new rubber tire in a playground captures a child’s eye. Initially, the child acquires information about the object drawing on prior experiences. He looks at its location in space, its features, its properties and surrounding objects, then steps inside the tire. As he begins to identify with the object, he sees it as more than a tire. Reinforced by peers, the tire becomes a boat; oars are added, a sail is hoisted, food is gathered, a captain is appointed, and the children prepare to sail. When interesting objects are available to children, and when children are encouraged to use materials creatively, exploration leads to dramatic play.” -Ellen Cromwell, Georgetown Hill founder, from Nurturing Readiness in Early Childhood Education: A Whole-Child Curriculum for Ages 2-5

girls playing with a soccer ball

What is play?

Play is often described as “anything that spontaneously is done for its own sake.” Contemporary definitions of play for young children focus on these key elements:

  • Play is pleasurable. Children must enjoy the activity or it isn’t play.
  • Play is intrinsically motivated. Children engage in play simply for the satisfaction it brings. It has no extrinsically motivated goal or function.
  • Play is process oriented. When children play, the means are more important than the ends.
  • Play is actively engaged. Players must be physically and/or mentally involved in the activity.
  • Play is non-literal. It involves make-believe.
boy plays with toys at our preschool

As children grow and develop during the early childhood years (ages birth-five) they tend to progress from simple object-centered play, to cooperative play, to more complex levels of imaginative or make-believe play.

Play for Infants

Play from birth to 18 months primarily involves use of the senses. Babies see, smell, hear, taste, and touch to learn about their world. People are infants’ favorite playthings and they love back-and-forth interactions.

Play for Preschoolers

Children’s ability to process information, remember, and problem-solve increases greatly during the preschool years (3-6 years). Imaginative and interactive role-playing start during the preschool years, and the language and social skills practiced through make-believe games come into play as preschoolers interact with each other more and more.

Play for Toddlers

For toddlers (18 months-3 years), language, social-emotional, and motor development are continuing at a rapid pace so play at this stage often involves action (running, jumping, climbing, and riding) and curiosity (taking things apart to see how they work, understanding spatial orientation, and cause and effect)

kids playing in a sandbox at our childcare center

The Benefits of Play

Many early childhood experts have written extensively about the benefits of play. It is generally understood that play is important for children’s healthy brain development.

At Georgetown Hill, Play is the first component of the PLAN Curriculum (Play, Learning, Arts, and Nurturing). Our classrooms are designed to stimulate children’s natural curiosity, exploration, and play through engaging materials and supportive interactions with teachers and other adults.

Our monthly curricular themes promote creative play and imagination: a unit on the Arctic might include a life-sized igloo filled with arctic stuffed animals and items to keep warm; a unit on Our Community might include a grocery store in dramatic play, a construction site in the block/building center, and natural objects readily found outside in the science center. Children are given opportunities for both free play and “guided play” whereby teachers scaffold children’s play by joining in the fun as a co-player, asking thoughtful questions, commenting on children’s discoveries, or encouraging further explorations. While all of the features of the PLAN curriculum are interrelated, play is the foundation of the learning experience.

Play is the universal language of childhood….Play is a child’s way of meeting, greeting, responding to, and mastering his world. It symbolizes pleasureful and purposeful activities that are natural and necessary to growing up; activities that reinforce, and shape childhood. Most importantly, play generates a desire for continuation-for more of whatever it is that is engrossing and challenging to a child at play.”(Ellen Cromwell)