The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA
Kindergarten Readiness

Play-Based Learning Benefits

The Play is the Thing: The Benefits of Play-Based Learning

While Kindergarten parents tend to focus on traditional academic skills like literacy and numeracy development, play is an equally important, and often overlooked, component of a child’s elementary education. Play is how children make sense of what they are learning in class, incorporating new vocabulary, developing comprehension skills, and weaving problem solving strategies into their dramatic play, block and LEGO creations, and puzzles and games. 

Every fall at Back to School Night, Fay Kindergarten teachers Anne Canada and Lee Bogaert share the poem “What’s in Your Backpack” by elementary education expert and author Dr. Jean Feldman. The poem highlights all the different ways in which play supports the educational goals of the classroom. “Parents often think that learning and play can’t be the same thing,” says Anne, “but when you find ways for learning to feel like play, then you get real buy-in from the students. Parents should understand the value of play as a learning tool.” Here are just a few of the skills that Kindergarten students build and practice through play:

Problem Solving Strategies

Playtime is where children test out what they are learning in class. After a recent unit on simple machines in science, Anne watched as her students decided to remove a large chunk of wood from the sandbox during recess by creating a lever to lift it out of the sandbox “It was a direct trickle-down from their academic work,” says Anne. “They were taking what they had learned in class and applying it to solve a real world problem!”


Most Kindergarten classrooms have some variation of choice time where students may choose to play in the block area, dramatic play, library, or art area. In Fay’s Kindergarten classroom, Anne and Lee guide but don’t direct this kind of play. “If I tell students to pretend that they are running a Starbucks and to make a menu for it, they’re not going to be interested,” points out Lee. “They have their own ideas, and they have to follow where those ideas are taking them.” Allowing children to direct this kind of play builds imagination, storytelling, and language skills, while allowing students to explore the aspects of each activity that interest them most.

Cooperation, Empathy, and Participation

When children play together, there are complex group dynamics to be negotiated. The children have to decide who goes first, how to take turns, and the role that each person will take in the activity. “A lot of our literacy and math activities are games that not only target academic skills, but they also teach self regulation, how to be fair, be patient, and make compromises,” says Lee. 

Risk Taking

When you watch a child play, you can clearly see their interests and passions, but play can also present opportunities for children to explore outside their comfort zone. “It’s a safe way to try something new,” points out Lee. Maybe a child has never been interested in painting before, but then it’s presented in a new or fun way and they decide to give it a try. 

Communication Skills

To get a sense of all the “serious” work that goes into play, Lee and Anne suggest that parents open a dialogue with their child about what they are working on. A conversation that starts with “Tell me about what you’ve built” is going to go so much further than one that starts with “I like your tower.” “Kids want to talk and explain what they are seeing, doing, and thinking,” says Anne, and those rich back-and-forth dialogues build great communication and language skills. 

So, the next time you walk by a classroom - or your child’s play area - and it looks like absolute chaos, remember that what you are seeing is active learning in progress. “Sometimes it’s going to be messy and loud,” says Anne, “but even though the big picture might be sheer chaos, the children are busy, interested, committed and engaged.”

About Fay School

Fay School was founded in 1866 and is the oldest junior boarding school in the United States. Our 66-acre campus is located in Southborough, MA, just 25 miles from Boston. Our community includes 475 students in kindergarten through grade nine and includes 150 boarders in grades 7-9  from across the United States and over 20 countries. Fay is recognized around the world for its superior educational program, and our graduates are accepted to top secondary schools. Fay's program empowers students to discover their talents, develop their intellectual abilities, establish essential academic skills and knowledge, and define their moral character - all essential to living a life of meaning and making a positive difference in the world.

Learn more about Fay School.

main number 508-490-8250
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