Mother and daughter playing - learning through play

Learning Through Play – How to Capture Teachable Moments with Young Children

When my daughters were young, we had so much fun integrating learning opportunities into games and play.  This happened quite often and quite naturally.  Little did we know then how much they were learning through playing, reading, doing chores, or just talking. 

You may be wondering…

  • What is learning through play?
  • Why is learning through play important?
  • How do you facilitate learning through play as a parent?
  • Is play-based learning effective?

This article will explore these questions and provide some practical tips for facilitating learning through play with your child.

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Learning Through Play – Capturing Teachable Moments with Young Children

It is never too early to help your child learn the basics to create a strong foundation for future learning as they grow older.  Many of the things you teach your children at an early age will come through learning through play at home.  The basic skills children learn through play will support them as they go to school.

Take a deep breath and relax.  You don’t need to hire a nanny, a tutor, or send your kids off to preschool to learn the basics.  Just read on to find out how to encourage learning through play into the teachable moments you are already spending with your kiddos and they will be miles ahead in their learning!

Children can learn the basics for lifelong learning when they start Kindergarten or first grade, but giving them a head start before they even realize they are learning, gives them a huge boost when they begin school.  It also gives you the opportunity to help them develop a solid foundation for learning.

What is learning through play?

Learning through play is a way to build and layer education into the fun activities that a child already enjoys doing.  Playing is a huge part of a young child’s life and the more they play and explore, the more they learn. 

As an adult, you can ask questions, invite curiosity, and inspire learning through play by using games, toys, and playtime activities the child is naturally interested in.

When you intentionally find ways to layer learning into whatever your child loves doing, your child will learn without even realizing it.  They will add academic vocabulary and understanding to their growing mind which will make it much easier for them to grow in knowledge and understanding as they get older.

Benefits of Learning through Play

The benefit of learning through play for your child is that they will be learning without realizing they are learning, while they are having fun.  The benefit of learning through play for you as the parent is that you can accommodate, focus, and expand right along with your child and you don’t need any teacher training, education, or curriculum.

Here are 7 quick benefits of encouraging learning through play for your child.

  • It’s fun
  • It’s easy
  • You don’t have to be a teacher
  • No curriculum needed
  • Very transferable
  • Expands with the child
  • Flexible

Learning through play play based learning activities for young children

Learning through Play Activities/Play-based Learning

Here are some fun and easy ways to incorporate learning into your everyday life with your children. Add some of these play-based learning activities into your day today and watch your child’s knowledge and learning grow and expand.

5 Play-Based Learning Activities to Boost Reading

  • Play games with words.  Practice finding rhyming words, opposites (antonyms), or synonyms.  We loved to play this game while we were doing dishes.  I would say something like “what is a word that rhymes with rat?” and they would say “cat” or “hat”.
  • Spelling – Learn the alphabet song.  Teach your child the sounds of the letters and practice sounding out words or finding words that have certain letter sounds in them.  See how many words you can come up with that start with the letter T or S, etc.
  • Read aloud – This helps children with story-telling, sequencing, grammar, proper sentence structure, language acquisition and learning new words, reading for context, voice inflections, and punctuation.
  • Memorize together – Bible verses (Psalm 23, Psalm 91, etc), poetry, silly rhymes, and tongue twisters (Peter Piper picked a peck…, How much wood could a woodchuck chuck…) Get some ideas in 52 Bible Verses for Kids to Learn this year.
  • Play the alphabet game in the car.  Look for alphabet letters on signs and buildings and encourage your child to recognize words on signs such as STOP.  If your child doesn’t recognize the letters yet, look for shapes or colors. If you’re looking for specific games to play in the car, check out this awesome road trip activity bundle!

3 Play-Based Learning Activities to Encourage Music Skills

  • Sing together.  Surround your children with kid music that is singable.  Just because a song is popular on the radio doesn’t mean it’s singable for a child.  Pick music that includes songs that you can sing together, echo songs like Down by the Bay and Bill Grogan’s Goat, story songs that tell a story, rounds, silly songs, repetitive/predictable songs like Old MacDonald, Christian songs, scripture songs.
  • Music has the ability to help a child (or adult) learn something and remember it more easily than without music.  Songs based on scriptures will stick in your head much more easily than just trying to memorize a scripture verse.  We also learned to skip count by music and then all you had to do was remember which song it went with and you could skip count.  2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc. My girls loved Cedarmont Kids music cds as well as anything by Twin Sisters!
  • Music and singing help a child learn pitch, beat, and rhythm.  One game we used to play in the car was listening to different music and trying to figure out if it was 3/4, 4/4, or 6/8 time.  This was obviously an extension of earlier “music lessons,” but we had fun trying to be the first to figure out the timing.

4 Play-Based Learning Activities to Build Math Fluency

  • Create verbal math stories when you and your children are playing with toys.  Encourage counting, adding, subtracting, groups and patterns.  “How many blue cars do you have?  How many red cars?  Do you have more or less red cars?”
  • Counting and skip counting.  You can count steps from one place to another.  You can skip count when you are jumping rope “2, 4, 6, 8,” etc.  Memorizing skip counting (counting by a specific number such as 3.  For example 3, 6, 9, 12, etc.) gives your child a head start on multiplication and division without even realizing it.
  • Play store.  For many years, all the cans and food in our pantry had prices on them because my daughters loved to play store.  They had play money, a grocery cart or basket, and we had a play cash register.  They loved to come shop from my pantry.  At first, I was the storekeeper and would add up all their purchases, but as they got older, they started taking turns being the clerk and adding up the prices and counting out the change.
  • Set the table.  Fork on the left, spoon and knife on the right of the plate.  (Fork and left have 4 letters, spoon, knife and right have 5 letters.)

Learning through play play based learning activities for young children

7 Ways to add Learning through Play to Encourage an Interest in Science

There are so many ways to add scientific conversations and observations into daily activities.  Here are a few ideas to get your creativity started.

  • Identify birds and animals.  Look for habitats and ecosystems.  What do the birds or animals eat?  Where do they sleep?
  • Use a magnifying glass and look at things up close.  Insects, bark, grass, flower petals, etc.
  • Measure the rain with a rain gauge.  Measure the snow depth.
  • Practice drawing animals.  Draw with your child.  Get some great drawing books such as these ” target=”_blank”>Draw Write Now Books!  (These are our ultimate favorite!) 
  • Make sprouts to eat.  There are super easy directions for making sprouts in a jar.
  • Involve your child with cooking and baking.  Talk about heat, measurements, liquids, solids, and how they react to heat and cold.  Make popsicles.  Melt chocolate and dip strawberries in it and then let it cool and harden again.
  • Make play-dough.

How to Start Adding Play Based Learning Activities into your Playtime

Take a few moments to write down a few ideas and add to them each week.  I’ll bet you are already doing many of these things with your child and that is fantastic!  In my full-time job as a teacher, I see many children come to school with a tool kit of knowledge that they have learned through interacting with their parents and intentional teachable moments that encouraged them to learn.

There are other children who have missed those teachable moments and struggle to catch up in school.  Just by reading this post, your child is on the road to success because you are looking for ways to encourage their learning.  I’m proud of you!  Enjoy the journey of teaching your child new things and setting them up for success!

Start small. Don’t feel like you have to do 37 play based learning activities everyday. You don’t have to create a new sensory bin every day. You also don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of expensive Melissa and Doug toys (even though they are awesome) so that your child has “educational” toys.

Start simply by washing dishes in the sink with your child and put extra soap in the sink so they can explore bubbles and foam.

Start by folding socks together and looking for the pairs or matching colors and shapes and sizes. Once they’re folded, have a sock party and see who can throw the most folded socks into the laundry basket.

Start by playing cars and counting the blue ones or how many are parked in one section of your play area. Which car goes the fastest and which one goes the slowest.

You’ve got this! Make it fun.

If you know a mom who would like these ideas, please share this with her.  Thanks for Pinning it for later or sharing it on Facebook!

Additional Reading…

Math Activities for Preschoolers – Teaching Math Through Play

Preschool Reading Activities to Build Early Literacy Skills

Simple Tips for Sitting with a Young Child in Church

Getting ready for the first day of Preschool

Parent Interview Questions You Should Ask When Choosing a Preschool

5 Things You Should do with Your Child Everyday!

Simple Ways to Encourage Your Child’s Curiosity Through Nature

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73 thoughts on “Learning Through Play – How to Capture Teachable Moments with Young Children”

  1. Great list of ideas. I try to incorporate learning in daily activities as well. With my two year old I like to incorporate colors, letters and counting into most of what him and do. My 5 year old, is fun because she is learning so much we do scrapbooking, reading, crafts, cooking. Its great and I feel she is learning so much at home. I am learning a thing or two from her as well.

  2. My husband and I would incorporate music into our daily routine when my boys were little, they are now 14&12. Now we try to do the same with our girls who are 7 and 2. The huge age difference allows us to do everything again ?. We are planning to add board games to our weekend routine. Thank you for all the fun board game ideas. Raheela

  3. Great and fun ideas. My daughter and l always have music in the car and l never thought of it as a way of learning for her as well. I will be trying the alphabet game sounds like fun as well.

  4. These are such great suggestions to enrich kids’ lives as well as their parents. I know that my kids don’t remember so much of what we did together, but I treasure those memories. It is also a great way to build a loving relationship for when they hit the teen years.

  5. Yes! As a former teacher and now a mama, I can’t love this enough. People don’t realize that many of your daily interactions and playing/games with your child are actually forms of learning! Perfect!

  6. My teacher and mama heart loves this post. I am a former elementary teacher, and I now teach piano lessons from home while my children are young. Early music integration is so important. It is unbelievable the children these days who are not exposed to music regularly. It is very difficult for children to create music when they haven’t heard good music from a young age.

    1. I agree so much! I also teach music at my school and so many children are missing out on music at home. Good for you for teaching piano! I taught piano lessons at home when my girls were little for about 10 years. I loved it!

  7. Being outdoors and going to new places are always fun teachable moments. Cooking in the kitchen with kids is very teachable.

  8. This is a great list — it’s so important to remember that kids learn more through the everyday stuff than they do anything else — especially during the early years.

  9. This is such a great list of ways to make learning fun! We love playing games together because it’s a great way to teach so many different skills while still having fun.

  10. I love the ways you mentioned for learning. I also find travel to be a great way to learn for kids. We did just pick up Sight Word Bingo-learning to read is so hard!

  11. We like reading together and playing games and visits to the zoo. I would take my son to the zoo after school for a couple of hours when he was in kindergarten. Always something to learn there! I like that you enjoyed scrapbooking. My kids, parents, and nieces and nephews all like to look at our scrapbooks. It engenders a sense of family and belonging.

  12. Great tips and advice for sharing teachable moments with the children in your life! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.. so many children will benefit from your post!

  13. I need to be more intentional on playing games with my kids. I love to do it and they do as well, but it always seems to be on the back burner.

    1. Scrapbooking with kiddos can be a lot of fun! I found little scrapbooks for my girls at the Dollar Store and they had so much fun cutting out pictures and putting them into the scrapbooks.

  14. I love this! Raising kids I would look for these moments as well. I think a lot of parents are not looking for teachable moments!

  15. Before I became a mom, I used to worry about how I would teach my kids the basics. But now that I have three, I’ve realized that the best teachable moments come very naturally. Just showing an interest in what they are interested in opens the family up to so many opportunities for teaching and growth for both the parents and the kids.

  16. Well, now I’m feeling nostalgic. My kids are all grown up now but we enjoyed many of the memory making games and activities on your list. I sort of took a trip back in time as I read your post. I hope many young families who read your post will enjoy them in the years to come as well, especially memorizing Bible verses. My kids were in our church Awana program. They had to recite Bible verses every week, but I wish we had spent more time doing that together at home.

  17. Such a great reminder that “play” really is all about teaching/learning. The act of playing is so lost these days, I’m glad to see you writing about this!

  18. Great post! As a former homeschooling mom, I remember finding all the teachable moments with each outing we took. I miss those days, but the boys developed a sense of curiosity that remains with them in high school and college.

  19. I homeschooled my three kids through 12th grade. Our days were full of such teachable moments. Those are favorite memories. I absolutely have no regrets!

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