What Children are Learning Through Play

Girl running with pink shoes on hopscotch court

Learning and playing are not separate activities. Play is essential for a child’s cognitive, emotional, and physical development.

Learning through play is a term used to describe how children make sense of the world around them. Play teaches children how to interact socially with others and how to tackle physical and mental challenges. When children play, they gain self-confidence needed to engage in new experiences and environments.

What Children are Learning Through Play

Child playing with blocksWhen children play with BLOCKS they are learning:

  • To understand size, weight, and number concepts (math and science)
  • To recreate the world around them (geography and social skills)
  • Control and coordinate muscles (physical coordination)

When children do PUZZLES they are learning:

  • Spatial relationships (math)
  • To complete a task (study habits and self-esteem)

Child hammering pegsWhen children put PEGS in a pegboard they are learning:

  • Coordinate the actions of their eyes and hands (reading/writing readiness)

When children are LISTENING to a story and talk about what is happening they are learning:

  • To love books, remember details, and express ideas (language development)


Child dressed as pirateWhen children play DRESS UP they are learning:

  • To use their small muscles skills (self-help and writing)
  • To understand their environment better (abstract thinking)
  • To group objects in categories: sorting shoes, setting out plates and cups (math)

When children are SORTING PICTURES they are learning:

  • Match and classify (math)

Child drawing with markersWhen children are DRAWING a picture of a person they are learning:

  • Use symbols (reading/writing readiness)

When children are SCRIBBLING on paper they are learning:

  •  To use writing as a means of communication (reading and writing)

Child drummingWhen children are SINGING and making music they are learning:

  • To participate cooperatively in a group (social skills)

When children are catching and THROWING balls they are learning:

  • Coordinate eye and hand movements (physical development)

Children on web swingWhen children are CLIMBING on outdoor equipment they are learning:

  • Use their bodies in challenging tasks (self-esteem and coordination)
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Playful Learning: Develop Your Child's Sense of Joy and Wonder

by Mariah Bruehl

Ways to harness a child's natural curiosity and channel it into a love of learning.