Curriculum » Play-Based Learning

Play-Based Learning

The Creative Curriculum focuses on Sara Smilansky's research on how children learn through play and the relationship of the four types of play (functional, constructive, dramatic/pretend and games with rules) to future academic success.

Functional play appears at the earliest stage and continues through childhood as children use their senses and muscles to experiment with new materials and learn how things go together. Through the Creative Curriculum, our teachers facilitate functional play in interest areas by making descriptive statements that convey information or ask questions that get children to think about what they are doing when they experience new materials.

In Constructive play, children learn about the different uses of play materials by putting things together based on a plan, becoming a creator and organizing their materials and sustaining their attention for longer periods of time than in functional play. At this stage of play, their actions are more purposeful and directed toward a goal. They construct roads and houses and are pleased to see that what they have made lasts even when they are finished playing. Teachers validate and reinforce children's constructive play to prompt them to extend their ideas, and interact with children so that they learn from their play.

Dramatic or pretend play is often seen in Toddlers and can develop alongside functional and constructive play. When one child plays alone, his/her behavior is referred to as dramatic play; when two or more children are involved in a sustained make-believe play episode, their activity is called socio-dramatic play. The major difference between dramatic play and other types of play is that it is “person-oriented and not material and/or object oriented" (Smilansky & Shefatya 1990, p.3).

In dramatic play children typically take on a role, pretend to be someone else, and use real or pretend objects to play out the role.

Socio-dramatic play is often guided by rules children have learned through their own experiences and requires children to adapt to their peers. For example, if a child is pretending to iron and her playmates say that little children aren't allowed to handle irons, the child may have to modify her role and become a grown-up in the play scenario. Sociodramatic play is a high level cognitive and social task, requiring feats of imagination, reasoning, and negotiations with other children.

According to Smilansky and associate, Leah Shefatya, studies have shown a connection between high levels of sociodramatic play in preschool and cognitive, verbal, and social ability measures in the early elementary grades (1990). With these findings in mind, Creative Curriculum has placed a high priority on promoting this kind of play. Our teachers create an environment for frequent and varied sociodramatic play and interact with children to expand and learn from their sociodramatic play.

Games with rules, like sociodramatic play, involve planning. Table games and physical or movement games are two broad types of games with rules. Both require children to control their behavior, both physically and verbally, to conform to a structure of present rules. While Smilansky acknowledges the appropriateness and value of games with rules, she does suggest that, unlike sociodramatic play, they are usually very specific and allow for little flexibility. Thus, children may learn to control their behavior by playing games with rules, but they don't engage in complex thinking or interaction.

Creative Curriculum suggests outdoor games with rules that involve physical activity. Some board or card games are also recommended. Our teachers encourage children to make up their own rules for games. They focus attention on playing for enjoyment rather than on winning or losing and on cooperative or collaborative games in which children play with each other rather than against each other.

In all play, our Creative Curriculum teachers watch for opportunities to help children learn, expand their world, and master challenges.