Learning Through Play: September Carnival of Natural Parenting

September 14th, 2010 by Dionna | 14 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Children, Eclectic Learning, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, Infants, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Respond with Sensitivity, Toddlers

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Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: We’re all home schoolers

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how their children learn at home as a natural part of their day. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


With our toddler-almost-preschooler, our learning at home experiences can be summed up with one word:


“For adults, play means leisure, but for children, play is more like their job. Unlike many of us adults, they usually love their work and seldom want a day off. Play is also children’s main way of communicating, of experimenting, and of learning.”1

Let’s look at some of the many things we can learn through play.

Social Skills

*Taking Turns and Cooperation: Parents model turn-taking by playfully cooing back and forth with their one-month-old baby. As children get older, turn-taking games include things like peek-a-boo, catch, tag, and simple board games. Adults can also model taking turns with toys with their toddlers and preschoolers. As children get older and start playing with others (instead of the more side-by-side play of toddlers), playtime is full of rich opportunities to learn cooperation – building together, engaging in dramatic play with others, cleaning up a play space for a new activity, etc.

*Communication: Playtime with others teaches children how to listen carefully, how to speak effectively, how to read body language and nonverbal cues, how to gauge others’ emotions, and how to respect personal space.

*Social Norms and Manners: Playful interactions offer many opportunities to model manners (“thank you for handing me the chalk,” “can I have a turn please?”), internalize societal rules (think of things like the “red light/green light” game), and practice social norms (politely “introducing” yourself to the various dolls sitting around the table).

2010-08-29 08

Playing on a huge slide with Kieran in downtown Omaha.

Physical Skills

*Gross Motor Skills: Gross motor skills include things like balance, jumping, reaching – any game that gets kids up and moving (chase, Simon Says, dancing, walking around while playing dress-up, moving about the playground) simultaneously helps improve their coordination and gross motor skills.

*Fine Motor Skills: Many of kids’ favorite quiet time activities are wonderful ways to develop fine motor skills – stringing beads, playing with money, art, stickers, or playdough.2

Traditional “Educational” Subjects

*Math: Simple dice games not only teach numbers and addition, but the games work on important social skills (like taking turns and manners) and finding patterns on the dice helps develop reading skills. Building a tower of blocks gives us an opportunity to practice counting. Pretending to be astronauts lets us practice counting backwards.

*Reading: Games like Memory help children develop visual memory skills, which are important when learning abstract concepts, such as letters. Other toys and games also help develop beginning reading skills – like Candyland’s color cards. Tracking objects visually is also a step on the road to reading, so playing with a ball, finding “hidden pictures,” and even playing certain video games can help children develop this skill.

*Science: Multiple trips down the slide can provide a lesson about friction. Picking up stones in the backyard turns into lessons about insects and animal classifications. An evening of cooking dinner gives little ones lessons in math (measuring), reading (following a recipe), and science (the state of matter and how it can combine/change). An evening in the bath tub can  also be an evening learning about density, water displacement, and evaporation.3

Life Skills

*Role-play: Much of a child’s creative play is “practicing” adult roles: playing house, playing grocery store, driving a toy car, going to work. Children model what we do through imaginative play, and in the process, they are learning how the world works and how they fit into it.

*Discipline: We can even use play when we discipline our children. Discipline, which means “to teach” (from the Latin word disciplinare), does not need to be synonymous with punishment. We can use laughter and connection to end struggles that we once reacted to with yelling or other harsh forms of discipline.

Are you having battles with your children over bedtime? Play bedtime. Having battles over dessert? Play dinnertime. It doesn’t really matter if you play a mean mother who says no dessert, or if you play an absurdly nice mother who says “We’re having ice cream for dinner tonight.” Whatever makes them laugh. Having trouble with back talk? Pick up two dolls, and have one talk back to the other. You’ll have fun imitating children’s obnoxious behavior and making up snappy comebacks. Children will think it’s a riot.4

If you want to incorporate more play into your parenting, join us for an online book discussion about Lawrence Cohen’s #1 parenting book, Playful Parenting. You still have time to read along with us – come back Monday, September 20 to discuss the first three chapters with other parents!

Here’s the best thing about learning with young children: it should be fun. If you’re not having fun, you probably need to practice playing.

How is your child’s play doubling as a teacher?



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated September 14 with all the carnival links.)

  1. Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., “Playful Parenting” at 4
  2. Early Childhood News has a good list of fun ways to develop fine motor skills.
  3. Nicholas Academy, A Cool Experiment
  4. Playful Parenting at 238-29

14 Responses to:
"Learning Through Play: September Carnival of Natural Parenting"

  1. mamapoekie   mamapoekie

    very nice post. And what a beautiful picture that goes along with it
    I would like to point out that math is more than just counting, and that math is everywhere, also in play. It’s in arranging toys by color, kind or size, it’s in building towers, it’s in how many strawberries can I fit in the pot… it’s there when my daughter draws lines on a sheet of paper or fills a shape with marker or walks from me to daddy. It’s there when we collect shells on the beach, and only take those with no snail inside
    If you learn through play, math is a lovely thing. It’s just not called math ;)

  2. PLAY – that is what it’s all about at preschool age and early Primary. Even afterward there are so many things children can learn by playing games :) I love your thoughts. And I agree that Playful Parenting is a terrific book – we HAVE had ice cream for supper before, multiple times, LOL.

  3. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    What fun ideas! My son is still too little for many if them, but we are getting there. I got him a play kitchen at a garage sale ($2!) and realized I need to do real cooking more, because he loves to pretend to microwave blocks etc then make silly muching noises or bring them to me to pretend to eat. Never the stove, never the oven. Always the microwave-lol.
    And he is finally understanding to wait for me to roll the ball back when we play catch instead of toddling over to take it from my hands himself!

  4. How true that there are so many benefits to simple activities – and that children love their work! I love your statement: “Here’s the best thing about learning with young children: it should be fun. If you’re not having fun, you probably need to practice playing.” I agree that both children (and parents) need to enjoy the time spent learning together. Children learn so much more and keep their love of learning if it’s enjoyable and interesting to them.

  5. Michelle @ The Parent Vortex   TheParentVortex

    I think that the essence of play-learning is the same for adults too. When I taught myself to knit, and later, to spin yarn from wool, I was playfully absorbed and intensely focused on what I was learning in the same way that kids become absorbed and focused in on their play. Interest based learning has a powerful pull and momentum of its own, in adults and children. Great post!

  6. Play is so important, especially as kids get older. School-minded folk tend to give the impression that once kids get to be a certain age, it’s time to buckle down, drag out the textbooks, and get serious about learning. Nothing could be further from the truth!

    That whole approach extinguishes a flame that lots of free play and exploration keeps alive.

  7. Beth Kimberly   eakimberly

    Great post! I particularly enjoy the fun of playing bedtime so that young ones can work out their feelings and parents can demonstrate issues. Looking forward to the online book discussion of Playful Parenting!

  8. Jessica - This is Worthwhile   tisworthwhile

    I love all your examples. I guess I just need to plug in some more to the wealth of lessons in every moment of the day to really understand how much happens.

  9. Melissa   momtosprouts

    WOW! Thanks! I have never even thought about some of those things! Sometimes I feel parents rush into homeschooling too young, when play is the best learning experience! Thank you for sharing!

  10. Joni Rae   kitchenwitch

    OH! You are so right! Play *is* their job!!!

    I love watching how my kids learn and figure things out while they play!!!


    Great post!

  11. Rachael   RachaelNevins

    The Critter has just started going to a Montessori preschool three days each week, where he plays all day long. However, because it’s Montessori, they call his play “work.” I understand why Maria Montessori chose to use this word — so that adults would take children’s play seriously. But I’m not entirely comfortable with the word, due to my own issues with work.

    Just finished the first three chapters of Playful Parenting last night — looking forward to the discussion!

  12. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    I love this post, because it gives validity to all the time children spend in play. Who knew that so much was going on! I’ve really taken that Playful Parenting tip to heart, and Mikko cracks up whenever I make his stuffed animals or action figures do things “wrong” or chastise an inanimate object. He gets into it and giggles like crazy, and it’s fun to see him work out his own frustrations in a playful manner and a safe situation.

    I’m going to feel really good about playing tomorrow! :)

  13. That’s an amazingly informative post! I knew the benefits of play, but thinking about incorporating it into daily life is something sort of ‘new’ to me. I’ve become aware of how often I say ‘no’ and it is distasteful to me. I need to think about how to change that.

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