Play-based Learning

What does “play-based learning” really mean?

A simple definition would be “learning by doing”.  This means children use hands-on activities to formulate an understanding of the world and learning concepts rather than being instructed in rote academic details.

How does the play-based approach look different from traditional approach in the classroom?

We’ll excerpt some information from Erika Christakis, Lecturer on Early Childhood Education at the Yale University Child Study Center, and Nicholas Christakis, social scientist and physician, who compared both academic and play-based philosophies.


“Preschoolers in both programs might learn about hibernating squirrels, for example, but in the skills-based program, the child could be asked to fill out a worksheet, counting(or guessing) the number of nuts in a basket and coloring the squirrel’s fur.

In a play-based curriculum, by contrast, a child might hear stories about squirrels and be asked why a squirrel accumulates nuts or has fur.  The child might then collaborate with peers in the construction of a squirrel habitat, learning not only about number sense, measurement, and other principles needed for engineering, but also about how to listen to and express ideas.

The child filling out the worksheet is engaged in a more one-dimensional task, but the child in the play-based program interacts meaningfully with peers, materials, and ideas.

Through play, children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility, and live with disappointment.

As admissions officers at selective colleges like to say, an entire freshman class could be filled with students with perfect grades and test scores.  But academic achievement in college requires readiness skills that transcend mere book learning.  It requires the ability to engage actively with people and ideas.  In short, it requires a deep connection with the world.

For a five year-old, this connection begins and ends with the creating, questioning, imitating, dreaming, and sharing that characterize play.  When we deny young children play, we are denying them the right to understand the world.  By the time they get to college, we will have denied them the opportunity to fix the world too.”


These are powerful words from experts that we apply at Spring-Mar, where learning through play is everywhere and all five senses are engaged every day.  Walk through our classrooms and you’ll:

  • SEE castles built from recycled materials
  • HEAR the sounds of children exploring new musical instruments while they sing and dance
  • TOUCH the bins of beans and rice at the sensory tables the kids use to hide and seek objects
  • SMELL the cool mud kids touch while they “meet” and feed compost worms
  • TASTE the flavors of homemade pancakes that Spring-Mar kids made by measuring ingredients, mixing, and watching the food cook

At Spring-Mar, we firmly believe our graduates are better prepared for academic success by learning through play while they are in preschool.