Play as a Teaching Tool in the Preschool Years Kelsey skowronski, katelyn morton, daisy anaya

Importance of Play

Play is the most important way that young children learn. Through play, children learn about the social, physical, emotional, and cognitive worlds around them. As they play with adults, they learn new vocabulary, understand culturally determined rules and roles such as how to treat one another, and build important emotional connections. When they play with their peers, they learn that others have perspectives, rights, and feelings that may conflict with their own. Playing with others is how children learn reciprocity and mutual respect, essential traits humans need to coexist in a peaceful world (Copple, & Bredekamp, 2009).

Play is not a break from learning, but a pathway toward learning (Copple &Bredekamp, 2009) .

Lev Vygostsky's Social Development Theory stresses the role of social interactions for cognitive development, concepts such as the More Knowledgable Other, and Zone of Proximal Development appear to be closely linked with play.

Play is the Work of Young Children!
Types of Play
Types of Play

Unoccupied Play - Play whereby the child seems to be engaging in an activity with no objective and in random movements. This sets their foundation for future play exploration.

Solitary Play - Otherwise known as independent play; this is where the child plays independently, being most common among young children who have yet to develop effective social and communication skills. This type of play helps the child figure out how to keep themselves entertained.

Onlooker Play - Where a child watches other children play but does not engage themselves. This is most common among young children who have yet to develop clear vocabulary or who are predominantly shy in nature.

Parallel Play - Two or more children working independently yet alongside each other. While this type of play does not permit the children to be social, it does encourage them to understand how to share and wait their turn.

Associative Play - This form of play is similar to parallel play except in this case the children do engage with one another to some extent. While playing alongside one another, they often are talking to each other and engaging in each other's activities a bit. This is an important stage in play! It helps them develop socialization, problem-solving, language skills, and cooperation.

Cooperative Play - This type of play brings all of the other forms together in one cohesive style. In this form of play, the children are actively playing together. This is most prominent among preschool-aged children and emphasizes all of the skills combined.

Other forms - There are also more specific forms of play, to include dramatic/fantasy play, competitive play, physical play, and constructive play. All of these hold a vital role in the socialization and development of children and need to be enacted in order for children to learn all of these valuable skills that will benefit them during grade school!

Implementing Play in the Classroom
Implementing Play in the Classroom

Centers are a great way for children to learn through play as well as socialize with their peers and practice self-regulation i.e.) home center (dramatic play), block center/building, puzzles, science center, music center, sensory board

Small group activities (breaking the classroom up into groups of 3 or 4) involving manipulatives such as counting bears/blocks, art activities

Having appropriate materials: Play dough, pieces of wood/cloth, natural materials (rocks, sand, water), ribbon, paper, string etc.

The room arrangement is also very important when considering play in the classroom. It is necessary for the room to have open spaces for the children to promote communication/collaboration with their peers and move about freely. It is also important to have quiet areas for solitary/independent play.



Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (Eds.). (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8 (3d ed.). Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Feldman, R. S. (2016). Child Development: Seventh Edition. Boston, MA: Chow & Stevenson


Created with images by Alexas_Fotos - "play stone colorful smilies" • Paul Schultz - "Glasses and Smile" • sweetlouise - "kaleidoscope playground colors" • laterjay - "dream inspire teaching" • bethL - "blocks child toy" • emmacraig1 - "Farm small world play" • Pexels - "abacus calculus classroom"

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