Learning Through Play

Written by: Nia Macchia



Time to read 2 min

The Role of Learning through Play in Early Childhood

What is “Learning through play” and how can it be defined?  

For many of us, playing with our dolls, creating an imaginative world outside, and making up games with friends on the school playground, fill us with memories of warmth and smiles from our childhood. Play is a unique and crucial component of the lives of children, observed across all cultures, generations, and even mammal species! In the early childhood years, how a child plays is as important as understanding how a child learns, for play is how children's brains learn and grow. Children build connections, solidify concepts, practice skills, develop self-regulation and decision-making abilities, and more through play. When a child is engaged in play, they learn how to relate to their world and make sense of it. Learning through Play fosters the growth of crucial developmental needs throughout their brain and body.  

Not all activities a child engages in constitutes as learning through play.

  Learning through Play must

  1. Be an opportunity for spontaneity.
  2. Promote freedom in decision-making.
  3. Be enjoyable.
  4. Be self-motivated.
  5. Have meaning.

What are the benefits of learning through play?

  • Learning through play is essential to children's development across all areas (language, social/emotional, physical, and cognitive). Play provides context, reinforcing learning in multiple areas. For example, when children play restaurant, they can write and draw menus, set prices, take orders, prepare food, and engage in social dynamics that cannot be practiced on a worksheet. Cooperative play fosters language development, while active play can promote large-muscle movement, providing vast brain-to-body connections. All aspects of development are intertwined and grow in together through play.
  • Learning through play helps children focus, developing self-regulation abilities that they’ll use their entire lives. When a child is engaged in play that is meaningful to them, they immerse themselves in their imagination, sometimes even hyper-focusing for extended periods. During this time, intentional interactions with adults can extend and deepen their play. For example, adults can equip children with the tools needed to handle conflicts with friends, work through disappointments, and give them the words to express their needs to others.
  • Play can help children handle stress and work through feelings. Play can allow an outlet and can even be used to help calm an anxious child. Learning through play allows for joy and fun while also giving them space to make sense of their world through sociodramatic play.
  • Play supports creativity and imagination. When given a wide range of materials and opportunities to pursue interests in play, children have the time to think about, plan, design, build, and experiment with their ideas. When children tap into their creativity, their brains and bodies work together in planning, execution, and problem-solving.

Learning through play is Magical


Learning through play is a dynamic and effective approach that fosters holistic development in children. By integrating educational concepts into playtime activities, children engage in a natural, enjoyable learning process. This method not only enhances cognitive abilities but also nurtures social, emotional, and physical skills. Through interactive play, kids grasp abstract concepts, problem-solving techniques, and critical thinking skills. It promotes creativity, curiosity, and a love for exploration, laying a strong foundation for lifelong learning. Learning through play encourages active participation, making lessons more memorable and enjoyable. As children immerse themselves in play-based activities, they not only acquire knowledge but also develop essential life skills, preparing them for a future filled with curiosity and intellectual growth.

For a child, learning through play is an essential aspect of their lives, helping them learn and grow as a whole child. Make sure to set aside time and space for your little one to enjoy some play today! If you’re interested in learning more about the importance of play based learning in the early years, read more right here.      

Geneva Walsh, M. Ed. Family Coach and Early Childhood Educator 

References: https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/five-essentials-meaningful-play https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_power_of_play_part_4_characteristics_of_play https://fpg.unc.edu/sites/fpg.unc.edu/files/resources/reports-and-policy-briefs/PromotingSelf-RegulationIntheFirstFiveYears.pdf https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/10-things-every-parent-play