What Is Play?

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.” This quote from Mister Rogers underscores the importance of play. Through play, children practice skills in all areas of development, including math.

As children stack blocks, fill and dump buckets of sand, or crawl in and out of tunnels, they are building math skills. These activities may not seem like math, but they are. Play paves the way for children’s formal learning of math concepts and more advanced mathematical thinking. Play is where the magic of learning happens.  

In this module, we’ll discuss how young children, in their everyday play, naturally explore and practice math skills. We’ll also suggest ways adults can support children’s math learning during play.

  • Free play
    is spontaneous, unstructured play that is child-directed
    Guided play
    is like free play, in that it's focused on what the child is interested in. But unlike free play, an adult facilitates a playful learning experience