Unit Three: What Does Play Reveal About Student Academic Development?



Unit Goals

By the completion of this unit participants will be able to:

  • Define the benefits of play on academic development
  • Identify academic domains accessed through play
  • Summarize play interactions to include descriptions of academic skills accessed

Questions for reflection

Pin.gifPlease formulate written responses to the following questions.Participants working independently can post their thoughts on the discussion page and comment on others' posts. Participants working in groups should discuss and compare responses with group members.

  • What is the benefit to you as the teacher in observing children in their play?
  • How does play help children experiment with their ideas and realize their intentions?

To understand the interaction between play and academic skills, we will consider the benefits play has on the development of academic skills.


The book Children, Play, and Development (Hughes, 2010), highlights the importance of play in the development of literacy skills; the ability to read and write. Play is closely linked to emergent literacy, the point when children begin to evidence early literacy skills, but are yet unable to read and write. Read the following summary on the role of pretend play and literacy development. [1]

  • Make-believe play and literacy
  1. Make-believe play and literacy both require the ability to think beyond the here and now. It is the ability to imagine another place,time or situation.
  2. The use of decontextualized language in reference to objects not immediately present, is another quality found in make-believe play and literacy. For example, a child may tell a doll to eat its food without actually having food on the spoon.
  3. In literacy as well as make-believe play, there are characters, plots,and roles.
  4. The ability to move from multiple frames of reference is a component of literacy and make-believe play. This is evidenced when children take multiple roles within a play sequence such as the role of daughter and mother.
  • Make-believe play and story narrative structure
  1. When engaged in sociodramatic play, children create stories by using a story schema; a story structure which guides their pretend play.
  2. Acting out roles of stories that are read to them, enhances children's ability to:
  • recall stories through dramatic play,
  • expand vocabulary by using terms learned in stories,
  • practice grammatical structures by using phrasing heard in stories,
  • have a deeper understanding of stories by inferring characters' thoughts and feelings.

Math and Science

Please read the research brief from the University of Idaho, Early Math Skills-Building Blocks For The Future.[2] The article addresses the acquisition of early math and science concepts through play. While you read, take notes on the reasons given for the importance of play in the acquisition of early math and science skills.


Pin.gifWrite a public service announcement about the positive impact play has on the development of early academic skills. Think about who might benefit from this information and share it with them. Consider laminating your public service announcement and hanging it up in a visible area of your classroom.

What Can Be Learned Through Play Observations?

In this section we will turn to research conducted at The Dimensions Early Education Program in Lincoln Nebraska where in 2004 a model outdoor classroom for preschool through school-aged children was opened. The research paper,Young Children Learn Through Authentic Play in a Nature Explore Classroompresents the findings of the observations conducted at the nature classroom. This report presents specific examples of children's play as well as detailed information on the process and procedures used to conduct the play observations as well as summaries about the learners developmental and academic skills.

Please read the following sections of the research paper.

Pin.gif Reflect and write responses to the questions for each of the readings. Participants working independently should post their responses on the discussion page and provide feedback to others' posts. Participants working in a group should share responses and provide feedback to group members.

Play Observation Notes, pages 12-15[3]

  • What are your thoughts on the learning that occurred in these play interactions?
  • How do you think the children benefited from these experiences?

Summaries of Play Observations, pages 24-50[4]

  • Do you think that students' learning and thinking were revealed in these play interactions? Please explain your reasoning.
  • How might these observation summaries be used to support student learning?
  • How do these summaries inform teacher instruction?

Discussion of Skills Developed and Revealed Through Play, pages 50-53[5]

  • What do you think play reveals about student skills integration that a worksheet task can not show.

Video Observation Activity

Pin.gifFor this activity we will return to the video of the children playing ball.[6] In order to distinguish among the children refer to the following labels:

  • boy with the hooded sweatshirt= H.S.
  • boy with red shirt= R.S.
  • boy at the table= B.T.

Pin.gif While watching the video take notes on the play behaviors the boys reveal. The following questions serve as a guide for your play observation:

  1. What type of play do the boys demonstrate?
  2. What developmental domains are accessed in this play interaction?
  3. What academic domains are accessed in this play interaction?
  4. Describe the early academic skills evidenced by the children?
  5. In broader terms, how do you think the children benefited from this interaction?

Pin.gif Write a summary of your observation incorporating the information from your notes. Participants working independently can post their summaries on the discussion page and comment on others' posts. Participants working in groups should discuss and compare their summaries with group members.

  • After completing the activity, refer to the activity feedback page and compare your responses to questions 1- 4.


  1. Hughes,F.P.(2010).Children, Play, and Development (Fourth Ed.).Thousand Oaks, California:(Sage Publishing), 225-227.
  2. Shaklee, H., O'Hara, P., Damarest, D., (March,2008). Early Math Skills-Building Blocks for the Future Research Brief. University of Idaho College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
  3. Miller, D.L., Tichota, K., White, J. ( November, 2009). Young Children Learn Through Authentic Play in a Nature Explore Classroom: A White Paper Based on Research Conducted at Dimensions Early Education Programs in Lincoln, NE. Dimensions Educational Research, 12-15. Retrieved from http://www.dimensionsfoundation.org/research/authenticplay.pdf.
  4. Ibid., 24-50.
  5. Ibid., 50-53.
  6. Early Childhood Australia. National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program (October 9, 2012).Practicing Skills [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7t7jYTvkT4&feature=plcp.


Keeping Imaginative Play In the Kindergarten Classroom

Unit One

Unit Two

Unit Four

Course Summary

Course Evaluation