Play is Learning

Crafts and art projects are a great way to spend time with your child exploring and learning but for young children (0-5) it really should be the icing , not the cake. Most of the things kids this age should be doing should be open ended, play, exploration and with less boundaries than most crafts offer. I get asked almost daily about a schedule and about how much time we use up doing crafts and the reality is usually less than 30 minutes a day is spent at the kitchen table doing structured learning. Here are some of the other things we do – please feel free to share yours too .Oh and don’t worry , your children are learning while they play , they are always constructing and connecting many concepts and skills while they “work”.

Here is our list of fun play activities we have been into lately, with my tips on how to make it work and how to keep the fun going with those tricky toddlers.

  • Play outside, I know this seems like a no brainer but I find I go in cycles, I take him to the park every few days then I don’t for ages. When we go and there is no one else there , we play follow the leader, hide and seek and chase. It’s a great workout for me and he naps well after it !
  • Dress up. I don’t leave all of our dress up stuff out all the time, when I do they don’t get played with, if I put it away and bring it out all at once we end up playing with it for 30 minutes happily. Our collection is just starting with s few costumes, some beads, hats and the bunny ears you see above. My son loves using my husband’s clothes too.
  • Book Festivals are big right now in our house. We gather a pile of books, and snuggle in my bed while reading each book. ( I didn’t really read Twilight to my toddler ).
  • Block cities, castles and of course toddler-zilla. Build it up and knock it down, don’t fight it, embrace it and make sure that no one is getting bonked , bu you have to admit blocks scream to to knocked down. If you have a child like mine who can get pretty upset if his tower gets knocked down , teach them that it’s okay , you can rebuild. I have found that simply saying ” Oh let’s rebuild” and not really coddling him but acknowledging his frustration has worked for us. If you have a tip, share!
  • Animals. We love the aquarium, zoo and our local marine science center, visits are short but still worth it , but even if you don’t have that you probably have a pet store or good old Walmart. Trust me on a rainy day a few goldfish can save your sanity!
  • House. This hasn’t surfaced yet at our house but when I was nannying 2 little girls I spent most days from 4-5:30pm playing some form of house. Make believe is a great way to teach and learn about your kids, it’s fascinating to listen to what they say when they are playing “roles”.  Or choose another pretend play idea that appeals to your child and run with it.
  • A kid size hike is always fun, most towns and cities have pathways in parks that will let your little one explore some nature freely !
  • Cooking! Real food, wood food it doesn’t matter this is a great way to spend time with your child . My son loves to play with wooden mushrooms but I can’t sneak real ones into him in go figure!
  • Children’s Museums. As a teacher I loathed going on field trips, they are logistical nightmares with preschoolers, but I love it now that I have one hand to hold not 20 heads to count. Click here to find one in your area.
  • Sensory fun : Water, sand,rice, oatmeal, the options are endless. Add some measuring cups or favorite, coffee scoops and you are good to go ! We have made tons of sensory tubs  you find a great one with just the right theme for your child.

Of course they can also always just play, a box is always fun !

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book collage pinterestI am sure many of you can relate to this!preschool activities ebook


  1. Infant Bibliophile says

    Thanks for all of the nice ideas. I’m sure that took a long time to put together. We love asking for family memberships to museums as Christmas gifts. We also have a laundry basket full of balls and a basketball hoop that sees a lot of use. And packing and unpacking just about anything is big around here. I ended up doing my Weekly Unplugged project
    as unstructured play this week, by necessity. thanks as usual for the helpful tips.

  2. Andrea says

    This is a great post, such a good point about all the ways they learn through play and not just these structured activities. I wanted to add Gardening to your list. We have small garden beds where we plant veggies, herbs, etc. The kids LOVE to be involved in planting, watering, and especially picking and eating! If you don’t have room to garden its so simple to grow herbs and grasses in pots on the porch/deck. We recently planted cactus seeds for indoors too.

  3. Bernadete says

    Thanks for sharing this post. I think as parents it important to realize that play is a very important way to learn. As an educator I feel it is such a shame that our young children are being robbed of these opportunities, therefore making it crucial that parents provide these opportunities for their children.

  4. Allie says

    I agree Bernadette I think sometimes as parents we worry so much about what our kids know and don’t know that we get caught up on them learning the way we do , but that isn’t how young children connect the dots, not with significant meaning anyway. I worry that if I don’t repeat this a lot my blog gets lumped into the group of things parents worry they aren’t doing enough of, but kids don’t need to do a lot of this, they need a lot of play.

  5. Anonymous says

    thank you. i am a teacher, too. we have started making puppets from socks or plates, felt, etc. then we play with them creating all kindws of scenarios. they love to make up rescue missions like on dora or diego. or practicing social skills . typing one handed sorry, babe in arms

    puzzles are a huge hit for us rihjt now with our 2 and 4 year olds.

    creating an obstacle course indoors works well esp if it involves tunnels, bridges and mountains.

    we dont have a zoo nearby but we have a farm and they can help feed animals or pet them.

  6. Nikki says

    Thanks for the reminder 🙂 . Just adding that a few weeks ago we got a new water heater… AMAZING box! 😀 .

    I can’t wait until it gets warmer outside and we can do more “hiking” and such!

  7. Rebecca says

    What a great post!

    We also play with cars or trains, we read a lot, puzzles are a huge hit right now and so is hide and seek. Either with ourselves or with objects. Anything with a ball is very popular too and of course singing and dancing!!

  8. Nan says

    “Just Playing”

    When I’m building in the block room,
    Please don’t say I’m “Just playing.”
    For, you see, I’m learning as I play,
    About balance, I may be an architect someday.

    When I’m getting all dressed up,
    Setting the table, caring for the babies,
    Don’t get the idea I’m “Just Playing.”
    I may be a mother or a father someday.

    When you see me up to my elbows in paint,
    Or standing at an easel, or molding and shaping clay,
    Please don’t let me hear you say, “He is Just Playing.”
    I am expressing myself
    I just might be an artist or inventor someday.

    When you see me sitting in a chair “reading” to an imaginary audience,
    please don’t laugh and think I’m “just playing”.
    For, you see, I’m learning as I play.
    I may be a teacher someday.

    When you see me engrossed in a puzzle or some “playing” at my school,
    Please don’t feel the time is wasted in “play.”
    For you see, I’m learning as I play.
    I’m learning to solve problems and concentrate.
    I may be an engineer someday.

    When you see me cooking or tasting foods,
    Please don’t think that because I enjoy it, it is “Just Play.”
    I’m learning to follow directions and see the differences.
    I may be a cook someday.

    When you see me learning to skip, hop, run, and move my body,
    Please don’t say I’m “Just Playing.”
    For, you see, I’m learning as I play.
    I’m learning how my body works.
    I may be a doctor, nurse, or athlete someday.

    When you ask me what I’ve done at school today,
    And I say, “I just played.”
    Please don’t misunderstand me.
    For, you see, I’m learning as I play.
    I’m learning to enjoy and be successful in my work.
    I’m preparing for tomorrow.
    Today, I am a child and my work is play.


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