Posts in July 2021

How do children learn to play?

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Play is the most important way of learning for children. Children practice and learn multiple skills during play, but how do children actually learn to play?

Stages of Play

Psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) studied play and found out that even babies play - but in a different way than 5-year-olds. According to Piaget, children engage in types of play that reflect the level of their cognitive development. The stages of play are: Functional play, Constructive play, Fantasy play, and Games with rules (Johnson, Christie & Wardle 2005).

  • ­Functional play
    • using bodily movements
    • playing with or without objects
    • running, jumping, sliding, gathering, dumping
    • manipulating or stacking objects
    • playing informal games without rules
  • ­Constructive play
    • using objects like blocks, Legos or other materials (sand, clay, paint, blocks, snow ) in an organized, goal-oriented manner to make something
  • ­Fantasy play
    • role playing or make-believe playing
    • pretending to be eg. a mother, superhero, dinosaur or Peppa Pig
    • make believe actions, such as driving a car by moving a pretend steering wheel or imagining a cardboard box as a castle
  • ­Games with rules
    • games with peers
    • games are controlled by pre-established rules
    • games such as tag or hide&seek

How can children learn by playing in Finland?

Which type of play is the most valuable one?

As children grow older, the way they play evolves. Piaget viewed the forms of play as progressive, beginning with functional play (a baby playing with a rattle) and later progressing to more complex games with rules.

Nevertheless, one of the stages of play remains important, even the child's cognitive skills would allow him/her to move to the next stage.

According to Francis Wardle (2015), PhD in child development and early education, early childhood educators continually have to justify the use of play in the curriculum. Often this justification is that play prepares children for later academic, social, and emotional successes (Leong & Bodrova 2015).

But, while constructive play teaches children to be flexible thinkers (Bruner 1972), and develops a sense of control and self-esteem by encouraging children to control their environment (Chaille 2008), Wardle believes the main value of constructive play is that it enables children to be children: to do what children need to do and want to do!

I believe the main value of constructive play is that it enables children to be children: to do what children need to do and want to do!

- Francis Wardle

Children love constructive play

Even research shows that when given a choice of free play activities, preschool children choose constructive play more than 50% of the time (Rubin, Fein, & Vandenberg 1983). Constructive play was also preschool children's favorite outdoor activity (Ihn 1998).

Assess children's learning with Kindiedays

Why is constructive play so important?

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Children should be encouraged and supported to fully enjoy, explore, and appreciate constructive play.

- Francis Wardle

The most important thing in encouraging constructive play for young children is to understand the value of this kind of play, says Francis Wardle, a Ph.D. in child development and early education.

How do children learn by playing in Finland?

During constructive play, children get to manipulate their environment with the tools and materials provided. And actually, providing inspiring materials is the key to promoting constructive play.

What is a good timing for constructive play?

Children should be encouraged and supported to fully enjoy and explore constructive play. Further, time for different types of play should be provided every day. Constructive play should be encouraged inside, in transition areas (for example porches or decks), and on the outdoor playground.


    According to Wardle (2015), changing materials from outdoors to indoors and from one area to the other inspires children for constructive play:

    Because constructive play is driven by children’s interactions with their environment (Chaille 2008), changing the environment encourages all sorts of constructive play. Adding new materials indoors is one way to increase constructive play indoors. Another tip is to swap materials across learning centers: the woodwork bench with the art area, the science and block area, the literacy area with the math - and so on. Finally, taking natural materials from outside and bringing them into the indoor classroom is a good way to increase interest in constructive play.

    Plan activities indoors and outdoors - get free lesson plans!


    Who doesn't like to splash in the water or dig deep in sand? Right! Water play areas and sandboxes encourage constructive play because sand and water are very flexible materials (Ihn 1998). A large garden also encourages a variety of constructive play, you can add traditional classroom materials like art easels to the garden.

    Children often need to be encouraged to use traditional classroom materials and equipment in new and innovative ways outside. Try for example painting on the sidewalk and building higher and bigger towers with blocks. In general, outdoor play is louder, takes up more space, uses more materials, and is messier than indoor play (Johnson, Christie & Wardle 2005).

    How to encourage constructive play?

    In order to get constructive play going, children need a variety of stimulating materials, for example:

    • ­ Blocks
    • ­ Puzzles
    • ­ Mosaic tiles and patterns
    • ­ Milk crates, boxes and other cubes
    • ­ Clean pieces of wood
    • ­ Sticks, stones, leaves, bark, and other natural materials
    • ­ Sand and sand toys
    • ­ Water and water toys
    • ­ Clay, play dough, and other modeling materials
    • ­ Paints, brushes and easels, chalk, crayons, stencils, drawing tools, and other art materials
    • ­ Wagons and tools to move sand, dirt, and other materials (Wardle 2000).

    How to create a good environment for playing?

    Wednesday, July 14, 2021

    Play. It’s the primary occupation of childhood and the single most significant contributor to healthy development in kids.

    - Claire Heffron (a pediatric occupational therapist in a preschool)

    As we know from Kindiedays's blog last week, children practice for example language development, motor development and cognitive development during play - skills they’ll need in order to grow into balanced adulthood.

    Threfore it is not insignificant where children practice all these skills. When designing an environment for playing, pay attention to the following aspects:

    1. Big / Small play environment

    Think of a Football Field vs. Tent and imagine how children play in those two environments... Running + screaming and creeping + giggling.

    The bigger the play space is, the more physical activity we see in children. Playing at a gym, football field or playground supports the development of gross motor skills.

    Children prefer dramatic play in smaller, enclosed spaces. Therefore, playing in a small room, tent or hut encourages children to practice social skills, imaginative play and interaction. 

    That is why the size of a play space has a significant impact on the way children play.

    2. The social environment

    When children feel comfortable, safe and well - they are able to focus more deeply in play. It also matters who and how many people is present in the play environment: teachers, friends, unknown people, parents, siblings...

    Children have been found to engage in more physical activity play when an adult is not present. The number of people present in the play space also has an influence on children’s play.  Research points to the fact that children tend to withdraw in extremely crowded settings.  

    - Claire Heffron

    3. The sensory environment

    All children have their own sensory preferences and needs. These preferences have an impact on play too. 

    Great materials that can be used in sensory play are for example: sand, water, instruments, play dough, strechy bands, beads and lights for visual play.

    Some questions by Claire Heffron to consider: