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).


Constructive play is what young children naturally enjoy doing. Constructive play should be encouraged and supported because it gives children the possibility to simply be children. This, many believe, is the best possible preparation for later achievements. Providing adequate time each day for play, and continually changing, combining, and adding new and more complex materials, both indoors and on the playground, are the best ways to support constructive play. (Wardle, 2015).

Happy playtime!


Bruner, J. (1972). The nature and uses of immaturity. American Psychologist, 27, 687-708.

Chaille, C. (2008). Constructivism across the curriculum in early childhood classrooms. Big ideas as inspiration. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Ihn, H. (1998). Analysis of preschool children’s equipment choices and play behaviors in outdoor environments. Early Childhood News, 10(4), 20-25.

Johnson, J. E., Christie, J. F., & Wardle, F. (2005). Play, development, and early education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Leong, D. L. & Bodrova, E. (2015). Assessing and scaffolding make-believe play. In Bohart, H., Charner, K., & Koraleck, D. (Eds.), Spotlight on young children: Exploring play (pp 26-36). Washington, DC: NAEYC

Rubin, K., Fein, G., & Vandenberg, B. (1983). Play. In E. Hetherington (Ed.) & P. Mussen (Series Ed.,), Handbook of child psychology: Vol.4. Socialization, personality, and social development (pp. 693-774). New York: Wiley.

Wardle, F. (2000). Supporting constructive play in the wild: Guidelines for learning outdoors. Child Care Information Exchange (May), pp 26-29.

Wardle, F. (2015) The importance of constructive play. Read 20.7.2021.


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