When I Play I am Learning (What your Child is Learning when s/he is “just playing”)

When I play with blocks, I am learning…

  • Sizes and shapes, and how to create and repeat patterns: essential math skills
  • Spatial awareness, stacking and balancing: the basics of physics
  • Problem solving and logical consequences

When I play with water (and other items in the sensory table), I am learning…

  • Eye-hand coordination as I learn to pour, fill, scoop
  • To use tools to accomplish a task – funnels, cups, scoops
  • Concepts of empty and full, volume and weight, relevant to mathematics
  • Properties of solids and liquids in motion, that some things sink and some things float (science!)

When I play with dolls or stuffed animals, I am learning…

  • To use my imagination
  • To treat others with tender, loving care
  • To imitate the parenting behaviors I see in my life

When I play with puzzles, shape sorters, and stacking cups, I am learning…

  • About the relationships of parts to the whole… a basic math concept
  • Concepts of shape, relative sizes (big, bigger, smaller), and color
  • Eye-hand coordination, small motor skills, problem solving
  • Vocabulary related to the subject of the puzzle

When I look at books, and when you read them to me, I am learning…

  • That learning to read is important and enjoyable
  • That letters on a page represent words – talk written down
  • To interpret pictures to represent ideas
  • To follow the development of thoughts and ideas in the plot of a story

When I play outdoors and in the big motor play area, I am learning…

  • Physical strength, coordination and balance
  • To jump, slide, run, swing, roll, and climb
  • To take some risks and to learn when to be cautious
  • To watch out for other people before moving, to move around others carefully

When I play in the kitchen area with the food and the dolls, I am learning…

  • To use my imagination, to try on different adult roles
  • To cooperate with others when involved in some dramatic play
  • To express myself in sentences
  • To solve problems, especially socially, through negotiation with friends
  • To improvise and use things in a symbolic way to represent something else…abstract thinking.

When I play with cars and trains, I am learning…

  • To see myself from a different perspective, that of a giant
  • How wheeled vehicles move through the world and what happens when they crash
  • How things need to be pushed up hills, but going downhill, they go fast on their own (physics!)

When I play with Playdough, I am learning…

  • To express feelings, squeezing and pounding
  • When I cut out a shape with a cookie cutter, I am learning about negative & positive space, seeing something against its background (helps with reading)
  • That the amount of a substance remains the same, even when the shape changes.

When I sort things, I am learning…

  • To notice details and similarities and differences in objects; concepts of color, size and shape
  • To form categories, essential concepts for reading and mathematics
  • Logical reasoning

When I paint, scribble, or draw, I am learning…

  • To develop my imagination and creativity
  • To hold a paintbrush or pencil
  • The names of colors and how to make new colors
  • To distinguish shapes, and purposely create shapes
  • To express my feelings and ideas, and that my ideas have value
  • Concepts of symmetry, balance and design

When I choose to have a snack, I am learning…

  • To choose and try new foods
  • How to sit at a table with others for snack
  • How to drink from a cup (and logical consequence – when you make a mistake, you get wet!)

When I play independently when my parent has left the room for parent education, I learn…

  • That my parent can leave for a while to tend to his/her own needs, but s/he is still available if needed, and s/he always comes back
  • That I can ask other adults for help, and that I need to listen to other adults’ guidance
  • Independence and Self-Confidence

When I participate in circle time activities, I am learning…

  • The names of others in the group: an essential skill for building relationships
  • To listen, sit still and understand spoken language: important for school readiness
  • To wait when others are talking, To cooperate and be considerate of the needs of others
  • New vocabulary connected with the topic of discussion
  • To remember the words of songs and poems: helps to build memory skills

Toddler’s brains are developing at an incredibly fast rate. They are born with a lifetime supply of neurons (brain cells), but they only develop synaptic connections (the essential wiring that connects those neurons and helps our brains function quickly and effectively) through hands-on experience with the world. Through play! Learn more about brain development here.

Original concept (and some of the text) for this article is from http://88thservices.com/pdf/learning.pdf, by Karen Miller. Additional concepts by Janelle Durham

Also check out this resource which talks specifically about what math skills your toddler is learning while they play: for example “dumping a bucket of blocks and putting all the blue ones into a pile” ties to “Infants and toddlers look for exact matches when classifying objects… Classification will one day be used for the mathematical content areas of measurement, patterning/algebra, and geometry/spatial sense.”

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