Purposeful Play

Dear Dr. Day Care,

I enrolled my four year old daughter in a new day care.  During the tour, the administrator of the program suggested I should follow the philosophy of the school – teaching my child through play.  What does that mean?  I didn’t want to ask at the time for clarification, but now I am doubting myself.  Don’t children play all the time?   Am I doing it wrong?

Love to Play with my Daughter

Dear Love to Play with my Daughter,

Many child care centers are embracing the idea of learning through play, sometimes referred to as purposeful play.  This simply means being mindful of learning opportunities that a child can gain during play time. Parents and caregivers need to provide opportunities for children to explore, create, and imagine so that they can engage in meaningful, purposeful play. When play has a purpose or adds value to a child it is referred to as purposeful play.

Purposeful PlaySome examples of this could be playing outside on a fall day and pointing out the leaves on the ground that you see. Count the leaves fall and talk about the different colors you see on the leaves that still on the trees.  Ask your daughter to count the red leaves and then to count the yellow leaves.  Ask your daughter if there are more red or yellow leaves. Don’t forget to ask open-ended questions such as why some of the leaves haven’t fallen yet.  Listen to her words by reflecting back her thoughts and expanding on her response by adding more information about how trees lose their leaves in the fall.  Later, read a book about trees or the changing seasons.

Outdoor play is a unique opportunity for children to fully engage in purposeful play. Purposeful Play Learning through play is children’s natural response to the environment around them. Children will experience motor skills like running, jumping, catching, and skipping. Outdoor play can guide social skills and relationships and children will develop problem solving skills, team work, cooperation, confidence, and of course gross motor skills during outdoor play.

You can engage your daughter in purposeful play any time by asking questions, reflecting on her choices, taking the time to listen, and supporting her as she explores and makes new discoveries.

All play can be purposeful play where children can learn.  Children can learn the skills they will need to be successful when they have the opportunity to have meaningful play experiences.


Mary Ann Shallcross Smith President Dr. Day Care
Dr. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith
Founder, Dr. Day Care