Learning through Play and Preschool Activities: Interview with Jan Z. Olsen (Part 2)

by Carla on January 15, 2010

In part two of our interview with Jan Z. Olsen, Olsen discusses how learning through play leads to real life learning in physical and cognitive development and offers examples of activities that a daycare provider can easily implement.

OwnADaycare: How does play lead to real life learning in the area of physical development? What are some examples of play activities preschool teachers can offer in this area?

Olsen: It is important that children practice gross and fine motor skills, and coordination.  Dance with your children, give them a ball to kick around and help them at the playground to better encourage gross motor skills and coordination.  To encourage the fine motor skills needed for handwriting and keyboarding, sing songs that use their fingers, like the “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, and “The Crayon Song” on the Get Set for School™ Sing-Along CD.  To further encourage proper fine motor skills for handwriting, give young drawers broken pieces of chalk or crayons to use.  The small size encourages correct grips. You can offer children, even ones as young as 9 months, to pick up tiny pieces of food, like Cheerios, with their fingers, and older children can do crafts involving small, age-appropriate objects, to develop writing muscles and good coordination.

OwnADaycare: How does play lead to real life learning in the area of cognitive development? What are some examples of play activities preschool teachers can offer in this area?

Olsen: Here is how play with Capital Letter Cards can develop thinking, memory and sequencing skills.  The child has a capital R card.  The task is to put real wood pieces on top of the R.  What pieces? He needs to plan what to get – a big line, a little curve and a little line. He has to remember what he needs and go get the right pieces. Then he has to place them in the right order. The teacher helps him, but he’s thinking and planning.

Here is how a finger play song builds number concepts.  Children learn the “Five Fingers Play” activity. After individual finger verses, they raise one hand high and say “five fingers here” and then raise the next hand high to say “five fingers there.”  With 10 fingers in the air they say, “Ten fingers to wash my hair.”  It’s simple, but it builds a cognitive sense of number quantities in a very personal way.

The “Animal Legs” activity does the same. Children learn:  two legs in the front, two legs in the back, the cow has four legs I know that. Though play children develop observation and number skills.

OwnADaycare: What are examples of good verbal cues that preschool teachers can use to enhance learning through play?


  • Say position words, “top, middle, and bottom” while having children imitate you as you and they hold a big line at the top, middle or bottom.
  • Say go up like a helicopter or down like a helicopter for vertical lines.
  • Say slide down for a diagonal line.
  • Teach number words when talking about letter parts. Say that a capital E has one big line and three little lines.
  • Teach sequence words. Say, first you need a big line.  Then you need a little line at the top.
  • Describe what’s happening on the playground with words: You are climbing up. You are sitting down. Now, you’re ready to slide down.

OwnADaycare: Any additional comments?

Olsen: Because young children are naturally curious, active, and eager to try new things, the preschool years are the ideal time to lay the foundation for learning. However, preschoolers are not yet ready for seat work or formal teaching.   Play-based, multi-sensory informal learning is actually more personal and more effective for learning (tactile, auditory, visual, acoustic, etc.).

The Get Set for School program accommodates the active and rapidly changing child with a variety of playful learning experiences. The key is balancing the needs of the whole child: emotional, physical, and developmental.  Through personal interaction and well designed play opportunities children gain social maturity, develop strength and coordination, language and literacy skills. They make a smooth transition to the world of school, into school routines and they’re ready for symbols, reading, writing and using numbers.

Jan Z. Olsen, OTR, is one of the creators of The Get Set for School™ readiness program that uses play and music to help very young children build a solid foundation for lifelong learning. Ms. Olsen is also the founder and creator of Handwriting Without Tears®. For more information, visit www.getsetforschool.com.

About Carla

Carla Snuggs has written 88 post in this blog.

Carla is a freelance writer from Southern California. She has a B.A. in early childhood education and a Master of Library and Information Science degree specializing in public librarianship and youth services.

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