Young Children Learn Through Play: Pretend Play and Gross Motor Learning

by Carla on September 1, 2009

All child care services must incorporate some type of learning through play. Your child care business should focus on a strong preschool curriculum that builds learning opportunities directly into play so that learning develops at the same pace as the growing child. Children by nature are curious, active, and eager to learn and try new things. To keep them that way, preschoolers need a readiness curriculum that encourages “playful learning.”

Different types of play support many different types of development:

  • Singing, with movement develops memory and language, social participation and imitation, rhythm, rhyme and body awareness
  • Undirected playing encourages social skills, such as cooperation, taking turns and following instructions
  • Hands on letter play builds pre-writing skill. The teacher shows children how to make letters with dough, wood pieces, or magnetic stamps. They learn letters (and numbers) in multi-sensory active play.
  • Coloring and drawing with small crayons help children develop a good pencil grip and developmentally appropriate pages make for easy coloring and drawing. Building structures and simple shapes with wood pieces leads naturally to drawing success.

At its core, play is a physical, kinetic activity. Sitting at a table playing a literacy game, for example, can be a great opportunity to build fine motor skills. A teacher could give a child of preschooler age plastic tweezers and cover a table with paper-cut out letters and ask the students to pick out all of the B’s, or the letters in their name. Not only are her students building their letter identification, they are practicing the skills essential for later writing development.

Gross motor play, including outside time, is full of pretend play and physical activity. This type of play is often easiest for an adult to enter without disrupting the flow of the activity. Adults should observe for a few moments before entering the game, and then ask, “What are we playing?” A simple verbal cue can set the stage for the pretend story at hand. Very quickly, she will find herself running, laughing, and enjoying as much physical development as her young playmates.

In pretend play, children use their imaginations and generate different ideas and images. This helps them to learn to think of different ways to solve a problem, either in a creativity task or in daily life. Children who have good pretend play ability can think of more things to do in a situation (like being at the doctor). This ability is usually independent of intelligence. Pretend play also relates to ability to understand the emotions of others and to take the perspective of the other. This is probably because children take many different roles when they play. For example, they pretend to be the mother, baby, boy, girl, teacher, dentist, etc.

Do not discount the importance of learning through play. Play allows children to learn through their natural curiosity about the world at large. Daycare providers should take advantage of the opportunity to facilitate this type of learning by offering play activities that foster creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills like negotiation.

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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