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December Newsletter

Updated: Jan 6, 2022

Elements of Play-Based Learning

Play-based learning includes the following elements:
-Self chosen: A child voluntary chooses to play, how they’ll play, and for how long. An adult may initiate play insofar as he or she invites or suggests play but the child determines the rest.
-Enjoyable: Play is enjoyable for the child. This emotional aspect is important. There may be some frustrations or disagreements during play but overall it’s FUN!
-Unstructured: A child has ample time to explore and discover during play. They’re directed by their own interests, not by any prescribed rules or plans.
-Process-oriented: There is no end or learning goal. Instead, it’s the process of play that’s important.
-Make believe: Play often involves imagination, ‘make believe’, or ‘playing pretend’.

Play-based verse Academic Preschools:
-Play-based and academic preschools differ in overall learning theory as well as day-to-day activities.
-Play-based learning helps a child develop holistically through social-emotional learning, developing confidence and motivation, and practicing cognitive skills. The academic or traditional approach to early childhood education is more focused on teaching young children cognitive skills and knowledge through structure and routine.

In play-based learning, children choose their own activities for the day. The room is often broken up into sections or stations like a block area, dramatic play area, and reading nook, among others. Play-based programs are also sometimes called ‘child-centered’ because the children guide their own learning with their curiosity and interests.

Meanwhile, academic programs are teacher-led and meant to prepare children for kindergarten. The teacher comes up with activities or games to help children learn letters and distinguish shapes, sounds, and colors. Children may spend time practicing handwriting or filling in worksheets. These programs are typically very structured with a daily routine and lots of activity prep from the teacher.

Play-based learning programs: Pros
* Children get to choose their own activities and topics and this keeps them interested
* Contributes to kindergarten readiness:
* Play helps develop social skills and children with social skills are more successful in academics later on
Play-based learning programs: Cons
* Children may not be exposed directly to learning letters, numbers, or scientific concepts
* Children may not score as highly on standardized testing (until after first grade)

Academic programs: Pros
* Early attention skills are predictive of academic success later on
* Children are more familiar with academic subjects by the time they enter kindergarten

Academic programs: Cons
* Can cause children to lose interest because they are being told what to learn and do
* Children in academic programs have been shown to score higher on standardized tests than their counterparts but this gap closes by first grade
* Children in academic programs often have more behavior problems than those in play-based programs
* Teaching academics earlier doesn’t lead to faster cognitive development
* One of the most important things children need is self-confidence and judging them and telling them their ideas are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ instills the opposite. It can make them feel ashamed or embarrassed for trying.
* Teacher-led learning can dampen creativity and curiosity (Fuller et al. 2017)

Easy Fine Motor Christmas Activity

This Christmas Tree activity allows kids to practice scissor skills. They can also build hand strength as they use a hole punch to complete it.


1. Play Builds Imagination and Creativity

During play, kids stretch their imaginations. They create make-believe games or get lost in pretend worlds. Children act out different solutions while boosting their confidence. They make their own rules and learn how to follow or adapt those rules as needed. These are helpful skills for navigating life and developing relationships with others.

Symbolic play is the ability to imagine one object as another. For example, a stick, a bucket and pinecones can become a cooking spoon, a pot and yummy ingredients. Symbolic play is an important part of healthy development. It builds skills that children need for future learning and problem solving. 1 It also improves creativity, which contributes to success throughout a person’s life.

2. Play Fosters Cognitive Growth

What does fostering cognitive growth mean? It means that play is essential to healthy brain development.

Unstructured play is the time when kids direct their own play. They are not bound by schedules or activities directed by adults. Unstructured play helps a child’s brain develop in positive ways. It strengthens and increases neural connections in the brain. These are the paths in the brain that we use for thinking.

Unstructured play also helps build and strengthen the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This area influences the way a child learns, solves problems and gains knowledge about their environment.

3. Play Delivers Emotional and Behavioral Benefits

When adults feel overwhelmed, we retreat into activities that soothe us. We go to the gym, sing karaoke with friends, walk around the neighborhood, weed the garden or play a board game. These activities are more than a distraction. They are a way of bringing play back into our lives and connecting us to the things in life that help ground us.

4. Play Improves Literacy

Children are born wired to learn language. Starting from birth, they build language and literacy skills through play and interactions. Babies and toddlers learn new words when adults describe what they see, hear and do. Songs and poems connect syllables to beats. This helps children develop listening skills and learn about the sounds in words.

Through play, kids learn about communication it's structure. They get to practise back and forth conversation, even if they can't speak! Sharing stories in books, orally or in make-believe play, helps them understand who they are and their role within the community. Stories also teach how language works and how narratives are structured.

Toys and games are also useful. Playing with small toys helps build the small muscles in hands. This helps with writing. “I Spy” and concentration games develop abilities for observation and maintaining attention. These skills support reading comprehension by helping children understand and apply what they're reading.

As kids enter school, play continues to be important. Research shows students pay more attention to their work after an unstructured play break.

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