Research shows that play is central to young children’s learning. During play, children use language, develop social skills, solve problems, practice motor tasks, and engage in creative thinking.
Adults can support children’s learning through play by ensuring children have plenty of time for open-ended play each day, by providing engaging materials (including some realistic play props), by scaffolding children and asking children questions during their play, and by introducing new play concepts.
Videos and Other Resources
Research shows that play has an essential role in children’s learning. This video discusses the importance of play and advises early childhood professionals to look at several elements of children’s play, including engagement in make-believe play, social interaction during play, and play complexity. Teachers who enhance children’s play can help promote children’s development in a variety of domains.
This series includes a video on the importance of pretend play, as well as several videos that feature examples of dramatic play centers. In these videos, teachers demonstrate a clear understanding of children’s developmental needs and capabilities, and use their dramatic play centers to provide opportunities for learning across a variety of domains.
This series includes five videos that focus on different ways to support children's physical, social, cognitive, and language development through physical and outdoor play. Some videos address infants and toddlers, while others address preschoolers. Handouts for teachers (Teacher Tips) accompany the videos.
The Center's annual TIMPANI (Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) Toy Study researches how young children in natural settings play with a variety of toys and identifies toys that best engage children in intellectual, creative, social, and verbal interactions in preschool classrooms.
The Relationship of Teacher-Child Interactions in Preschool Play to Young Children’s Mathematical Abilities
Math ability in preschool is one of the best predictors of later school success–research suggests it is a better predictor than early literacy skills. While many studies have found strong relationships between young children’s play and literacy, studies of teacher interactions in play and mathematics learning have not been conducted. This video describes findings from a study aimed at identifying classroom interventions in play that are associated with math achievement in three- and four-year-olds. The findings indicate that how teachers interact with and communicate with children while they play has powerful impacts on children’s mathematical learning.