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What Play is Learning


Play is an essential part of a child’s development, especially during the preschool years. It provides children with opportunities to learn and grow in ways that traditional instruction can’t match.

What play is learning in preschool
What play is learning in preschool

Through play, children develop not only physical skills such as coordination and strength but also vital cognitive, social-emotional, and problem-solving competencies. By understanding how play shapes young minds and bodies, parents, educators, and caregivers can better support young children’s healthy development.

Things Play Can Teach Preschoolers

Play is the most important tool for a preschooler’s development. Through play, young children can practice and refine new skills, strengthen their creative thinking abilities, learn to interact with others, become familiar with rules and routines, develop problem-solving skills, improve communication abilities, and explore their feelings. Play helps children create memories that will last a lifetime as it encourages them to make up stories, role-play scenarios, or enact events from their daily lives.

Types of Play in the Preschool Classroom and What They Teach

The preschool classroom is filled with many opportunities for play and learning. But what do each of the stations and centers actually teach? Here are some of the skills that each aspect of the preschool day offers practice with through play.

Dramatic Play Area

The dramatic play area can teach students about:

  • Developing communication skills
  • Playing cooperatively
  • Trying different roles
  • Enhancing imagination
  • Exploring and problem-solving through real-life situations
  • Helping to teach empathy
  • Helping children to become abstract thinkers

Listening Center

The listening center lends itself to:

  • Developing listening skills
  • Expanding vocabulary
  • Using pre-reading skills
  • Making connections between stories and illustrations

Art Center

In the art center, children can learn more about:

  • Developing fine motor skills
  • Engaging creative expression
  • Improving hand-eye coordination
  • Helping communicate ideas
  • Helping to learn Cause & Effect

Manipulative Center

Working and playing in the manipulative center helps children focus on:

  • Coordinating small muscles
  • Fine motor skills
  • Developing grasping and manipulation
  • Building hand-eye coordination
  • Sorting, geometric shapes, basic number concepts

Sensory Table

At the sensory table, children have the opportunity to:

  • Observe, weigh, measure
  • Learn about capacity
  • Build tactile awareness
  • Experiment and discover

Outside Play

Students have a world of learning possibilities open up to them when outside. Some of those include:

  • Strengthening core muscles so they can sit upright at a desk later
  • Expending energy so they can concentrate better later
  • Develop coordination and balance

Calm Down/Cozy Corner

This area of the classroom is perfect for reducing sensory distractions. It can also be used to:

  • Develop self-regulating skills
  • Rest the body and mind
  • Calm sensory systems
  • Build emotional intelligence

Music Center

In the music center, there is a lot more to learn about than just music. Some of the things kids learn include:

  • Developing rhythm & patterns
  • Expressing ideas & Improving listening skills
  • Increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain through movement
  • Encourages balance and coordination

Block Center

Playing with blocks is a great way to bring learning to the forefront! Here are some ways it does it:

  • Develops spatial concepts
  • Encourages cooperative play
  • Improves gross motor skills
  • Experiments with balance
  • Explores gravity
  • Builds structural & engineering concepts
  • Explores geometric shapes
  • Begins to understand Cause & Effect
  • Develops hand-eye coordination

And what happens at the more academic centers? How is learning incorporated into those areas? Here are some of the possibilities.

Language Arts Center

  • Develops print awareness
  • Helps with recognizing letters and sounds
  • Improves comprehension
  • Reinforces sight words
  • Practices independence
  • Expands vocabulary
  • Expands interests

Math Center

  • Grouping, sorting, classifying
  • Estimating, weighing, measuring
  • Learning about numbers
  • Enhancing cognitive skills
  • Patterns and number sense

Science Exploration Center

  • Developing observation skills
  • Discovering and exploring
  • Making predictions
  • Drawing conclusions from prediction

Writing Center

  • Helps with expressing thoughts
  • Improves fine motor skills
  • Helps train the brain for tracking from left to right
  • Helps with communicating ideas
  • Reinforces proper pencil grip


Play is an essential part of a preschooler’s development and learning. Through play, children can learn how to problem-solve, develop social skills, practice self-regulation, and explore their interests in meaningful ways. As parents and educators, it’s important for us to provide our little learners with the opportunity to engage in playful activities that will lead them toward success later on in life. By encouraging exploration through play-based activities, we are giving our young students the tools they need for future success!

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