Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

7.12: What Children Learn Through Play

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Just like the “whole child” is often broken down into developmental domains for studying, so too is learning. Many aspects of learning occur simultaneously; it is integrated and connected. To define learning we often break it into categories. Because the connection between play and learning is so important, the way it is broken down exists in many forms, including assessments, planning resources, and the frameworks and foundations mentioned above. Figure 6.8 is a compilation of such skills, compiled by Eyrich (2016) tying development into learning.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): What Children Learn Through Play [74]

    Domain  How it is tied to learning




    • Personal care (hygiene, feeding, dressing,)
    • Nutrition
    • Safety
    • Motor (Movement) Skills
      • Active physical play
      • Perceptual-motor (senses, effort, direction,)
      • Gross (large) motor (running, throwing, …)
      • Fine (small) motor (hands, fingers, feet, toes)











    • Cognitive approaches to learning and self-regulation 
      • Maintain attention
      • Self-comfort
      • Curiosity and initiative
      • Self-control of feelings and behavior
      • Engagement and persistence
    • Skills of inquiry 
      • Observe, investigate, document, communicate
    • Knowledge of the natural/physical world 
      • Understanding properties and events
    • Cause and effect 
      • Understanding relationship between cause/effect
    • Classification 
      • Learning the attributes of objects by exploring
      • Compare, match, sort, categorize
      • Finding similarities and differences
      • Symbol
    • Number
      • Understanding quantity (amount, degree)
      • Assigning a numerical symbol to quantity
      • Counting
    • Measurement 
      • Awareness of difference in properties 
      • (size, length, weight, capacity, volume)
      • Seriation (order 3 or more by comparison) 
      • (small/medium/large, loud/louder/loudest)
      • Time (sequence of events, rhythm, yesterday/ tomorrow)
    • Patterning 
      • Recognize, reproduce, repeating sequences
    • Spatial relationships Experiences an object’s position in relation to others





    • Symbol/symbolic reasoning
      • Sounds and letters are put together to represent things
    • Receptive language 
      • Listening, understanding, responding
    • Expressive language 
      • Speaking, communicating, conversation
    • Graphic (written) language/literacy
      • Interest in print & books, phonology, pre-reading, reading
      • Symbol, letter, print knowledge, pre-writing, writing











    • Skills learning with adults 
      • Can stay at school without parent
      • Can respond/enjoy adults other than parents
      • Adults will help in times of need
      • Adult will not always solve problems
    • Skills learned with peers 
      • Different approaches work for different peers
      • Cooperation and turn taking
      • Lead and follow
      • Sustain relationships and helping peers
      • Share materials, equipment, people, ideas
      • Asserting rights and self defense
      • Negotiating skills and solving conflicts
      • Anticipate and avoid problems
      • Realistic expectations and valuing differences
    • Skills learning in a group 
      • Respect
      • Responsibility
      • Compassion
      • Tolerance
      • Group identity
      • Follow and adapt to routines and expectations
      • How to enter and exit situations
      • Deal with delay of gratification (patience)
    • Skills learned as an individual 
      • Self-help and self-care
      • Make choices and initiate own activities
      • Cope with rejection, hurt feelings, disappointment
      • Take responsibility







    • Ability to deal with feelings 
      • Notice, label, and accept feelings
      • Express feelings in appropriate ways
      • Deal with feelings of others
      • Resolve inner fears, conflicts
    • Ability to exercise judgment 
      • Notice, label, and make choices
      • Think through consequences
      • Evaluate effectiveness of choices
      • Learn to take another viewpoint
    • Enjoying one’s self and one’s power 
      • Acquire a sense of self
      • Develop self-confidence and self-esteem
      • Build trust in self and others
      • Reveal own personality
      • Learn to take risks & learn from mistakes
      • Become competent in several areas




    • Flexibility (shifting from 1 idea to another)
    • Fluency (producing many ideas)
    • Sensitivity (awareness (moods, textures, senses,)
    • Imagination / Originality
    • Risk Taking / Elaboration (pushing boundaries)
    • Self as a resource (awareness, confidence in ability)
    • Experience (to build mastery to build upon)
    • Visual and Performing Arts



    Pause to Reflect

    Go back to the vignette with Javier and Ji. Looking at Figure 6.8, can you find learning that took place in all 6 of the domains? How might you use this list in your planning and communicating with families about “playing to learn”?

    This page titled 7.12: What Children Learn Through Play is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Cindy Stephens, Gina Peterson, Sharon Eyrich, & Jennifer Paris (College of the Canyons) .