How to combine playing + learning?

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Children just love to play! Therefore, in early childhood education and care, play is the most important way of learning. Learn the tips and a practical example of how to incorporate learning in play in a pedagogical manner - and soon the children love love love to learn too!

What is Finnish ECEC?

Why play?

Play motivates the children and simply brings joy. In early childhood education and care, it is necessary to understand the value of play for children. Play has also pedagogical significance in learning as well as in children’s holistic growth and well-being.


Do the adults have to play too?

Play is a key practice in early childhood education and care. It is important for teachers to observe children’s play and either guide it from outside or participate in it. The presence of teachers in play situations supports interaction among the children and prevents conflicts.

Teachers must also document the children’s play. Observation of play gives tons of information about their world - thoughts, interests, emotions, experiences, and fears...

How do we make children's learning visible?


Where to play?

Children’s learning environments need to be flexible, as play and games can take place anywhere depending on the children’s imagination and wishes. Play and therefore also learning happens everywhere, not only during guided activities or circle time.

Children might learn various things while for example taking a stroll in the forest (tree species), building a Lego tower (counting blocks), or dressing up (body parts).

How to combine playing + learning?

1. Observe what the children are interested in. What they talk about and what they like to play with.

2. Define the theme or project for the next activities based on children's needs and skills.

2. Define the learning objectives aligned with the children's individual, group, and center curriculum. 

3. Plan activities that involve the children's interests + learning objectives.


Example of a learning project related to cars

1. Children are interested in: cars.

2. Teachers plan a month that will be full of car-related activities.

3. Learning objectives of the month: I can name numbers, I can identify numbers and amounts, I play with shapes, and I learn about safety in traffic.

4. Activities

  • Car race: Let each child choose a car and push it as far as possible. Measure how far it went!
  • Shape/number traces: Children drive cars in the sand and try to make traces of different shapes (oval, square, heart...) or numbers.
  • Shape tracks: Use masking tape to make long car lanes that have shapes along the way, children drive along the shape tracks with small cars.
  • Traffic rules: Teach some traffic rules to children! Make traffic lights (for example out of cardboard) that have green, yellow, and red. Have a big space and explain that children/cars can only run/drive when the teacher shows the green light!   
  • Shape hunt: See which shapes you can find in cars!
  • Number hunt: Count how many wheels/doors/windows / ... does a car have?
  • Car art: Let children create a vehicle by gluing ready-cut shapes on paper.   


What is Finnish Early Childhood Education?  

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