The Role of Play in Early Learning: Strategies for Parents to Incorporate Play-Based Learning at Home

The Role of Play in Early Learning: Strategies for Parents to Incorporate Play-Based Learning at Home

In the whirlwind of modern parenting, it’s easy to overlook the simple joys of play. Yet, play is not just about fun; it’s a powerful tool for early learning. Play-based learning lays the foundation for cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development in children. As parents, understanding the significance of play and incorporating it into our daily routines can have a profound impact on our children’s growth and development.

The Benefits of Play-Based Learning

Play is not merely frivolous; it’s the work of childhood. Through play, children engage in activities that stimulate their brains, bodies, and imaginations. For example, when a child builds a tower with blocks, they are not just stacking shapes; they are developing spatial awareness, fine motor skills, and problem-solving abilities. Likewise, when children engage in pretend play, they explore complex social roles, negotiate with peers, and develop empathy.

Understanding the Types of Play

Play comes in various forms, each offering unique advantages for children’s development:

  • Sensorimotor play: This type of play involves activities that engage children’s senses and motor skills. For example, filling a sensory bin with items of different textures, such as rice, beans, and sand, allows children to explore through touch, sight, and sound. Engaging in messy art activities, like finger painting or sculpting with clay, provides opportunities for sensory stimulation and fine motor skill development. Sensorimotor play not only fosters sensory exploration but also helps children build neural connections as they interact with their environment.
  • Imaginative play: Also known as pretend or dramatic play, imaginative play involves children taking on roles and creating imaginary worlds. For instance, children might pretend to be superheroes, princesses, or doctors, using their imaginations to invent stories and scenarios. Playing house or setting up a pretend restaurant allows children to act out familiar roles and explore social dynamics. Imaginative play fosters creativity, language development, and emotional regulation as children navigate different roles and situations in their make-believe worlds.
  • Constructive play: This type of play involves building, creating, and manipulating objects to construct something new. For example, building structures with blocks, LEGO bricks, or magnetic tiles encourages children to problem-solve, plan, and experiment with spatial relationships. Sculpting with clay or molding with playdough allows children to express their creativity and refine their fine motor skills. Constructive play fosters spatial reasoning, creativity, and perseverance as children work through challenges and bring their ideas to life.

Cooperative play: Cooperative play involves children working together towards a common goal or engaging in shared activities. Playing group games like hide-and-seek encourages teamwork, communication, and social skills as children collaborate and interact with peers. Working on puzzles together or building with blocks in a group setting promotes cooperation, problem-solving, and negotiation skills. Cooperative play fosters social-emotional development, empathy, and conflict resolution as children learn to navigate relationships and work together towards shared objectives.

Strategies for Parents to Incorporate Play-Based Learning at Home

  • Here are 5 strategies for parents to incorporate play-based learning at home:
  • 1. Designate a Play Space: Parents create a dedicated play area in your home stocked with open-ended toys and materials that encourage exploration and creativity. You can designate a corner of the living room or a section of a child’s bedroom for play, and fill it with items like blocks, art supplies, dress-up clothes, and puzzles. This space should be easily accessible to your child and free from distractions, allowing them to immerse themselves fully in play-based learning activities.
  • 2. Follow Your Child’s Lead: Observe your child during playtime and identify their interests and preferences. Join in their games and activities, asking open-ended questions to stimulate critical thinking and problem-solving skills. For instance, if your child shows an interest in dinosaurs, suggest creating a dinosaur habitat together using blankets and pillows, or embark on a backyard fossil hunt. By following your child’s lead, you can tailor play-based learning experiences to their unique interests and abilities.
  • 3. Incorporate Learning into Everyday Activities: It is a good idea to look for opportunities to turn everyday tasks into learning opportunities. For example, involve your child in cooking or baking activities, allowing them to measure ingredients, count chocolate chips, and follow recipes. When organizing toys, encourage your child to sort items by color, shape, or size, helping them develop categorization and organization skills. By integrating learning into everyday activities, you can make learning fun and meaningful for your child.
  • 4. Prioritize Outdoor Play: Outdoor play is essential for physical development, sensory exploration, and connection with the natural world. Take nature walks in your neighborhood or local park, allowing your child to observe and interact with plants, animals, and natural elements. Your child can visit the local playground to promote gross motor skills and social interaction with other children. Additionally, you may consider setting up a backyard obstacle course or outdoor scavenger hunt to encourage active play and exploration.

5. Limit Screen Time and Promote Active Play: In today’s digital age, it’s important to strike a balance between screen time and physical play. Set limits on screen time to less than 1 hour/day and encourage your child to engage in active play instead. Instead of handing your child a tablet, suggest playing classic games like “Simon Says” or “I Spy” that encourage physical activity and interaction. By limiting screen time and promoting active play, you can support your child’s overall health and well-being while fostering a love for learning through play.


Incorporating play-based learning into our homes doesn’t require elaborate toys or fancy gadgets; it simply requires time, attention, and imagination. By embracing play as a fundamental aspect of childhood, we can nurture our children’s curiosity, creativity, and joy of learning. So, let’s put down our phones, roll up our sleeves, and rediscover the magic of play with our children. After all, the best lessons in life are learned through play during childhood.

At Mulberry Learning, we understand the importance of playing in early learning. That’s why our spaces feature multi-sensorial learning zones such as the Construction Piazza, Light Atelier, Discovery Cove and Imaginary Playscape, which allow children to engage in child-directed exploration and learning while having lots of fun! Explore more here!

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