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How to Teach Your Kids through Play

  • Mark Graham Crosswalk Contributing Writer
  • Published Feb 22, 2022
How to Teach Your Kids through Play

Learning through Play

Have you ever seen a baby playing with musical instruments? It may look like he's mindlessly banging on a toy, but this child is learning various skills. According to, "Making music helps the body and mind work together, stimulates thinking and expressive skills, and enhances creativity."

Musical play isn't the only type that benefits babies and toddlers. Shelley Butler, co-author of The Field Guide to Parenting, says most experts agree that children's play can be divided into the following categories:

  • Active play: running, jumping, climbing, riding, and other use of large muscles.
  • Quiet play: reading, coloring, etc.
  • Cooperative or social play: games and activities that involve more than one.
  • Solitary play: drawing, dreaming, or any activity that involves only one.
  • Manipulative play: putting together puzzles, building with blocks, cutting and pasting, or any activity that involves eye-hand coordination or fine motor skills.
  • Creative play: painting, molding, solving problems, making music, telling stories, or any activity that involves a child's imagination.
  • Dramatic play: dress-up, make-believe, or any play that involves pretending.

Many early childhood education courses teach that play is a child's work. Butler agrees, saying, "Through joyful, healthy play, children begin a love of learning that helps them prepare for life." Furthermore, teachable moments can occur as children play, especially when an adult helps the child discover something.

Activities as simple as playing peek-a-boo, singing, or giving a baby a rattle, can teach them communication and problem-solving, and help them develop their motor skills. And having toddlers stack and knock down blocks helps them discover math and science concepts, including shapes, gravity, balance, and counting.

While it may be trendy today to push children to read and write before kindergarten, it wasn't always this way. Many preschools in the mid-twentieth century emphasized play and discovery when child development experts like Jean Piaget began to tout the link between play and learning.

Piaget formulated a series of developmental stages of play in his theory of cognitive development in children. He believed learning should be student-centered and accomplished through active discovery. The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning rather than direct instruction. Piaget's instructional model is called the learning cycle, and it includes exploration, concept introduction, and application.

The exploration stage is when the teacher is an observer who merely comments or asks questions while the children work with materials or work together during an activity to find an answer to a problem. Concept introduction is when the instructor discusses what the children have discovered and then helps them to record the information, which further clarifies it. The teacher adds to what the children have learned, using explanations, materials, and experiences. In the application phase, the children suggest a new problem that they learned from the information presented. This keeps children actively involved and allows them to keep exploring the subject further. (Charlesworth, 1990)

As homeschool teachers, we are the first to help our children explore all the choices they will make in life, and we also teach them to get along with others. Educating our young children allows us to share what we know—teaching ideas, skills, and concepts that are meaningful and beneficial. And while we may be drawn to a certain preschool curriculum, we should be willing to adapt it to implement more play if necessary.

Educator John Dewey, one of the most famous proponents of hands-on learning, said we all learn from discovery and inquiry. He believed a teacher's main qualifications should be a love for working with young children, a natural curiosity about subjects, and a desire to share this knowledge with others. In other words, homeschooling parents are more than qualified for the job.

In successful homeschools, there are routines and rules that teach proper behavior while allowing children to develop their own personalities. Furthermore, homeschoolers can help children discover their interests by letting them ask questions and figure our answer in their own ways. Education is all about gaining experience and wisdom. As we grow, we are always learning, and it starts as babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.


• Charlesworth, Rosalind & Lind, Karen K. 1990. Math and Science for Young Children: Unit 1 How Concepts Develop, Delmar Publishing, Inc. New York.
• Ornstein, Allan C. & Hunkins, Francis P. 1998. Curriculum Foundations, Principles, and Issues: Chapter 5 Social Foundations of Curriculum (Third Edition), Allyn and Bacon; Boston, MA.

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Copyright 2021, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at, or download the free reader apps at for mobile devices. Read the STORY of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Image Source

Mark Graham is a writer/researcher with two bachelor’s degrees in educational studies and human services, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, and a doctorate in reading and literacy. He also writes book reviews and enjoys making crafts (paint-by-number projects, cross-stitch, and latch hook) and working outside.

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