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Keep play in preschool

Just 30 years ago, 40 percent of a typical preschool day was devoted to child-initiated play. Today, this number has fallen to just 25 percent (Miller & Almon, 2009). Over the years, play has taken a back seat to early academic preparation. But does reducing play in preschool benefit children academically and socially?

Recent multidisciplinary research finds that preschool children who engage in various forms of open-ended play display more complex language skills, more developed social skills, greater levels of empathy, higher levels of creativity, and better-developed interpersonal skills. Additionally, preschool children who spend more time playing are less aggressive, exhibit higher levels of executive function, display more complex thinking skills, and have brains with more complex neurological structures (Miller & Almon, 2009).

Longitudinal research challenges an academic focused preschool method at the expense of more play-based approaches. One study compared 50 play-based classes with 50 academically focused classes and found that by age 10, children immersed in a play-based approach excelled over the others in reading and math skills, and were more socially and emotionally adjusted (Darling-Hammond & Snyder, 1992).

In addition, nations like China, Japan, and Finland, which are touted for their exceptional international math and science assessment scores, boast preschools that are playful and experimental, not didactic.

Play serves as a powerful engine that drives learning in the preschool years and beyond. Children whom experience play-based preschool programs boast a strong advantage over those who are denied play and are more likely to become happy, healthy, well-adjusted grownups.

Here are 16 play types identified by Hughes (2011) that illustrates the dynamic learning that children can experience each day in quality play-based preschool programs:

1. Symbolic play – a broom stick becomes a horse

2. Rough and tumble play – play sparring

3. Socio-dramatic play – pretend play

4. Social play – playing with rules

5. Creative play – using creativity

6. Communications play – word play, jokes

7. Dramatic play – performance

8. Deep play – risky play

9. Exploratory play – experimenting

10. Fantasy play – rearranging things in imaginative ways

11. Imaginative play – pretending

12. Locomotor play – chasing, swinging, climbing

13. Mastery play – digging holes

14. Object play – exploring the potential of various objects

15. Recapitulative play – damming streams, growing food

16. Role play – exploring other ways of being

How does your preschool promote play?


Miller, E. & Almon, J. (2009). Crisis in kindergarten: Why children need to play in school.

College Park, MD: Alliance for Childhood.


Darling-Hammond, L., & Snyder, J. (1992). Curriculum studies and the traditions of inquiry:

The scientific tradition. In The Handbook of Research on Curriculum, Philip W. Jackson (Ed.).


Hughes, B. (2011). Evolutionary playwork: Reflective analytic practice. Routledge: London.