Play is perhaps the most important activity of young children. It's their
"work," their principal occupation, and how they learn! Even when this
process may not be obvious, learning occurs all the time for young
children. They learn by exploring the world around them, interacting with
people they meet, and experimenting with things they come across.
Children Learn From Each Other
When children play with siblings and friends, they learn from each other.
As questions, challenges, and conflicts arise, they figure out how to solve
When your child plays in a group made up of different ages, he has the
opportunity to learn in two different ways: first, by modeling the behavior
of the older children, and second, by "teaching" the younger or less
Children Learn by Doing
Learning is an active process. The more hands-on experiences your child
has, the more curious and capable he'll become. Children are fascinated by the work grownups do — cooking,
household chores, and fixing things. What's more, these real-life tasks
have tremendous learning value for children. So give your child his own
small bowl of pancake batter to mix and a child-size broom so he can help
sweep the floor.
Outdoor play — running and climbing — is essential for healthy physical
and it's a chance for him to investigate nature.
Children Learn by Creating and Imagining
You can further expand your child's learning opportunities by keeping
materials around the house that encourage him to express his ideas. Some good materials include:
- Paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, and tape for drawing, writing,
Cardboard boxes and other commonly found objects
Easel paints and watercolors
Water, sand, play dough, and clay for sensory experiences
Building blocks and Legos
Dress-up clothes, hats, and props
Children Learn From the Adults in Their Lives
Your lifelong offering of unconditional love and support is essential for
your child to thrive and develop. This relationship provides the sense of
security and positive self-esteem your child needs in order to achieve and
to learn. With emotional support in place, you can help your child get the
most out of play (and therefore learning) by following these suggestions:
Be specific and supportive.
Telling your child "You have to share" isn't very helpful. At best, she'll
cooperate while you're looking on. But if you guide her through the
turn-taking process, she'll understand more about how to share next time.
Help your child be a good observer.
Children learn from actively studying the world around them. If you take a
walk with your 3-year-old and come upon a construction site, share her
interest in the activity by stopping to watch and exclaiming, "Wow! Look
how big the wheels on that dump truck are."
Model positive behaviors.
One of the most powerful ways your child learns is by following your
example. This process happens naturally and almost unconsciously. For
example, when your child sees you reading regularly, she will want to read
and be read to. And reading is one of the most important things you can do
with your child!
Use positive language.
Everyone responds better to positive words than to negative ones. Instead
of issuing a command or a prohibition ("Don't throw the ball over there!")
offer a suggestion of what your child can do ("That's a good place to throw
Play is the work of childhood. It's how your child learns about the world
and how to get along in it. When you support your child in this challenging
job, then your child's work really will be child's play.