• Play-based learning stimulates early childhood development

Play-based learning activities at the YWCA


It has long been known that there is a strong link between play and learning. Children are full of natural curiosity and they explore this curiosity through play. When kids are playing, it's the perfect time to learn. But what does play-based learning look like as a curriculum? 

Play-based activities include, but are not limited to, four main areas of learning: 

  1. Sensory play
  2. Cognitive play
  3. Dramatic play 
  4. Manipulative play

Some examples of the play-based activities we teach at our YWCA early learning and child care centres include:

Sensory play

Sensory play encourages curiosity, sensory experience and experimentation)

•    Sand and water play
•    Finger painting
•    Texture play
•    Skills Learned

The senses are children’s most familiar way to explore, process and come to understand new information. Children can develop and create a sensory perception by grabbing, smelling, listening, rubbing, tasting and staring. They use their senses to collect information and from that, attempt to answer their own questions.

As educators talk with children about what they are observing and sensing, they give them new language tools to connect with these more familiar sensory tools, building language as well as supporting cognitive concepts specific to the experience.

Cognitive Play

Cognitive play encourages recognition of colours, size and spatial relationships and teaches children to classify, sort and construct.

•    Blocks
•    Puzzles
•    Skills Learned

Cognitive play is important for the growth of those skills used for critical thinking, analyzing, logic, recall and problem solving.  Blocks and puzzles help develop math skills and encourage cooperation like turn taking and teamwork. Cognitive play also helps to develop a child’s vocabulary by encouraging children to describe sizes, shapes and position differences.

Pretend (Dramatic) Play

Pretend play facilitates the development of social, language and literacy skills, self-expression and problem solving.

•    Dressing up in costumes
•    Playing with dolls
•    Playing with cars and trucks
•    Playing grocery stand and shopping
•    Skills Learned

Young children learn by imagining and doing. The process of pretending builds essential developmental, social and emotional skills. Pretend play also encourages language, thinking and problem solving skills. When children engage in pretend play, they are actively experimenting with the social and emotional roles of life. Through cooperative play, they learn responsibility and how to take turns and share.

Manipulative Play

Manipulative play facilitates fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and develops the small muscles.

•    Button sorting
•    Marbles
•    Puzzles
•    Threading
•    Beading
•    Skills Learned

Fine motor skills are important building blocks for a variety of skills in young children, including buttoning and unbuttoning, lacing shoes, tying, zipping, dressing, bathing and writing.

Fine motor development requires movement of the small muscles in the fingers (index, middle, and thumb) and wrists, usually in coordination with the eyes. Children are learning how to develop hand stability by building muscle strength. It is also important to give children the chance to take things apart, put them together and figure out how they work.

Our YWCA child care centre staff is trained in early childhood, infant-toddler and special needs education, as well as first aid and CPR. What are your favourite play-based learning activities?