PLAY: Learning Through Exploration

By Mrs. Patricia Snyder

Children learn best by doing, by manipulating objects when building and creating, by imitating family roles in dramatic play, and by exploring the world around them. Fred Rogers, a children’s entertainer and educator, said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” The Pre-K classroom at York Country Day is designed to promote free exploration and learning for young children. The furniture fits. The materials are at the children’s eye level. Toys are chosen that can be used in a variety of ways, allowing for creativity.

While in the dramatic play area, our students discuss what to feed their baby, write a grocery list using pretend writing, and say goodbye when one child heads off to school or work. Engineering and math skills are practiced in the block corner when children construct a bridge for the toy cars or build a house big enough for four or more friends. Letters and words are explored when children make a card for a friend, create their own book about a family pet, or paint letters into their art work at the easel. Patience and perseverance grow when children put together a challenging puzzle or try to make a Lego piece fit into their building.


Play also helps children build social and emotional skills. With the guidance of teachers, children learn how to negotiate, resolve conflicts, solve problems, get along with others, express their feelings, understand the feeling of others, take turns, be patient, share, and to make friends. As the year progresses, teachers stand back, lending a hand only when needed.

Exploration and discovery continues on the playground. The preschool playground is filled with natural materials and climbing equipment. Large logs and tree stumps line the building area. Last spring we watched as ants made their home in one of our logs. This fall, some children discovered that this log was starting to decompose. By poking and hitting it with other sticks, the children were able to completely break it apart and turn it into mulch. It turned into a great lesson about the cycle of plants. Each year, on warm fall days, we find hundreds of ladybugs flying around our white pine tree. We think that they are hibernating in our tree and that the warm sun wakes them up. Delighted children dance and laugh as they find one, then another, and then another little red bug landing on their clothes as they play.

Many other things happen during the Pre-K day. I believe, however, that what happens spontaneously and through discovery is what stimulates thinking, the sense of wonder, and learning more than anything else. Even adults should find time to play. It can add joy to life and relieve stress. Happy playing!