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Play-Based Preschool: Do Kids Just Play All Day?

When the grass is green and flowers are blooming in the spring at Mary Meyer School, we celebrate by hosting a farmer’s market.  Our purposeful play curriculum has led us to this special day. In early spring and before the trees are budding, our Farmer-in-Residence works with our students to discuss worms and seeds and soil and planting.

How does play fit into farming and how did we learn?

  • We read books about farming, worms, fruits and vegetables.
  • We added soil to our sensory table and planted grass which we “mowed” using classroom scissors.
  • We tilled the soil in our garden with shovels and hoes and planted seeds.
  • We watered and watched our crops grow.
  • We practiced buying and selling using real money.
  • We hosted parents and sold goods at our Farmer’s Market.
  • We donated the money we raised to a local food pantry.

Embedded in these play activities is learning. Playing in this context is science, math, literature, small and large motor work, social and ecological responsibility and presentation and public speaking skills. When children play, they are experimenting. Play is about self-discovery, self-analysis and self-awareness.  Children are learning about themselves and they are learning about their friends while teachers observe, ask questions and offer support and guidance.

Susan Neuman writes in Content-Rich Instruction in Preschool (2014) “In play, children express and represent their ideas, learn to interact with others, and practice newly acquired abilities and knowledge.” Play is what children love to do…this makes it a natural point of engagement for 3 and 4 year olds.

On the day of the farmer’s market, students drank lavender lemonade, and ate pickles and blueberry crumble. However, they are the ones who squeezed the lemons, cut the cucumbers and baked the crumble. Their hands got dirty digging and planting. Their anticipation was whetted when the tiny plants began to reach toward the sun. Smiles grew wide as young farmers welcomed their parents and sold their farmed goods. This farmer’s market may have been just one day, but the path that led to the market was varied and filled with excitement and learning and purposeful play.