Professor Mom

Dear Professor Mom,Megan
My four-year-old daughter will be starting kindergarten in September and I am concerned about the play-based curriculum they have introduced into the schools. I am worried that if my daughter just plays all day, she won’t actually learn anything and will fall behind in her development. How can I make sure my daughter is being educated and not just playing?
Sincerely, Kinder Mom

Nothing will teach your child more than the power of play.

Jean Piaget, a developmental psychologist known for his studies on children, believed that “play is the work of childhood.” Although it may look like children are “only playing,” they are in fact hard at work exploring, discovering, building, processing and engaging.

Play gives children the opportunity to create their own experiences and knowledge.

Not only will you see children in a kindergarten classroom developing their own identity, but you can also be sure they are learning these other valuable skills:

Social and emotional

One of the most important ways children learn through play is by developing their social and emotional skills. By learning how to share, take turns and be considerate, children understand the importance of cooperation.

For example, if children work together to build a tower of blocks, they can see that the tower gets built much faster. Through play, children also learn how to express and identify their own feelings and the feelings of those around them.

Social and emotional skills are essential to getting along well with peers, adults and the community around them. Play allows them to figure these things out while having fun.


When we think about children being “educated,” we often focus on how their cognitive (thinking) skills are developing. We do this because they are often the most concrete and easiest to assess.

Play encourages children to put their knowledge into practice. Child-directed activities allow children to problem solve and make sense of their surroundings.

Let’s look at the example about the tower of blocks. As children build, they can count the blocks to see how many there are, use different sizes of blocks to understand weight and measurement, and if the tower falls, they can figure out a better way to build it.


Playing in the sand and water are part of sensory development. Children are naturally drawn to these elements. You can see this after it rains, when children cannot wait to get outside and run and jump in the puddles.

Many children love to get wet and dirty. They love to dig in the dirt and play with worms and other slimy creatures.

As children play, they are learning about textures and touch. They learn that different objects are made up of different properties. Some are soft and some are hard. They can be slimy or rough.

You will see many kindergarten classrooms include sensory tables. Children can build, sift, pour, mould, measure, problem solve and much more.

Physical (gross motor)

As many of you know, young children seem to have an endless supply of energy. Their bodies crave physical play. They need time to run, jump and climb.

Through play, children develop coordination, speed, agility and balance. These are all important skills as children overcome different obstacles throughout their lives. Learning how to ride a bicycle takes all of the important gross motor skills I mentioned.

Children need to know how to balance in order to stay on their bicycle, coordination to pedal, speed to keep moving forward, and agility to control the bicycle’s movements. All of these skills are learned through play.

baby toddler playing with building block toysSelf-Help (fine motor)

One of the biggest challenges for children as they get older is learning to do things for themselves. Getting dressed, using the bathroom, tidying up, getting something to eat or drink and blowing their nose are just a few examples. All of these self-help skills depend on children having well-developed fine motor skills.

Fine motor skills focus on small muscle development often related to hand-eye coordination. Being able to get dressed, for example, requires children to be able to use their hands to pull on clothing and their fingers to do up zippers and buttons. This can be quite challenging and often children (and parents) become frustrated.

Play helps to teach children these very valuable life skills. You will often see a dress-up area in a kindergarten classroom. In this area, children learn to dress and undress dolls; this helps develop their fine motor skills.

Building with small blocks, writing with pencils, stringing beads and putting pegs on a pegboard can all support the development of hand-eye coordination and ultimately, self-help skills.


In kindergarten, you will often see art and music implemented into the daily routine. Although some of these activities can be teacher-directed, many kindergarten teachers are focusing more on the process than the product, realizing the best way to develop creativity is through free play.

Free play with art materials allows children to “think outside the box,” and helps develop a sense of autonomy. Children see that they can create something different, that their ideas are unique and important. So when your child brings home something they made out of their own imagination, place that one high on the fridge for everyone to see.

Watching our children head off to kindergarten can be a stressful time, but try not to worry. Your child will still have many teacher-directed activities that focus on specific skills. These will help
ensure their success as they continue through their elementary school experience – but now is the time for play.

For more information on play-based learning and what to expect when your child starts kindergarten, visit

Photo: Julia Unchura. Exclusive Moment Photography
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