Children are intrinsically motivated to play. A play-based program builds on this motivation, using play as a context for learning. In this context, children can explore, experiment, discover and solve problems in imaginative and playful ways. Play helps children work through their emotions and make sense of the world around. Through play children develop social and cognitive skills, mature emotionally, and gain the self-confidence required to engage in new experiences and environments.




“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself” (Dewey, 1916, p. 239).


Children don’t only learn by playing. It is important that the education for young children is interactive, works with hands-on activities and most importantly is relevant for the children. It is therefore that we work with thematic units that are based on the real world. In this way children are able to relate to real-world experiences and build on prior knowledge of a topic. Thematic units also help us teachers by paving a way to facilitating learning for each own child individual child. Learning through play supports each kid where they are at, so it is differentiation at its finest!

Each thematic unit last between 8-12 weeks (depending on the start of the holiday). Before starting and planning a theme, the educator will brainstorm with the children about what theme should come next or observes where their interest is at. After the brainstorm session the educator gets a day off, a special “thematic day” where the teacher gets to plan the theme. In this way the teacher gets a chance to carefully set the theme up in a way that many areas of the curriculum (math, language, science, social studies etc) are connected and integrated within that theme. Not everything is thoroughly planned out though. With our play-based curriculum we have a student-driven environment, which means that the execution of our theme can be different from our original plan. This all because we follow the child’s lead. Each theme starts with exciting activity or incident in order to dra the children in.


Inquiry based environment

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think” (Mead, 1950, p. 16)

Part of our theme-based approach is that children learn how to think. We start the theme by asking the children questions or bringing in problems. We create an Inquiry based learning environment. We have many brainstorm sessions with the children where we talk about the theme and make mindmap that represent our knowledge or our questions. Play therefore requires planning, higher level thinking, cognitive skills, math skills, and language skills.  

Integrated education – a holistic approach

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.” (O. Fred Donaldson)

Play presents children with a particularly strong opportunity for growth because it meets the needs of the whole, individual child. All domains of children’s development – cognitive, social, emotional, and physical – are intricately intertwined. Play benefits each of these skills in direct and indirect ways. Children learn and practice cognitive skills including language, problem solving, creativity, and self- regulation. Socio-emotional growth can be seen in children’s ability to interact with others, negotiate, and compromise. They also practice strategies to cope with fear, anger, and frustration. Moreover, block building, drawing, running, and

jumping all contribute to the development of fine and gross motor skills. When children have the chance to direct their own learning through play, they are able to address their own immediate and developmental needs and find activities that are most conducive to their individual learning styles.


In play, children develop a lasting disposition to learn. Having control over the course of one’s own learning, as in free play, promotes desire, motivation, and mastery (Erikson, 1985; Hurwitz, 2003). Children also learn how to seek out knowledge; play involves exploration, hypothesis testing, and discovery. What is more, all this is done in a safe, anxiety- and risk-free environment where children are free to test the limits of their knowledge and abilities with relatively few repercussions (Hirsch-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2003). They learn to have confidence in their ability to solve a problem, and they become resilient in the face of a challenge (Erikson, 1985; Hurwitz, 2003; Pepler & Ross, 1981). Play builds the foundation for a lifetime of learning.


Many of these skills, first developed through play, are crucial for success in the 21st century. There is no doubt that amassing knowledge of the world around us continues to be important in our society – and playful learning can help children to learn content-based lessons, too (for a review, see Fisher et al., 2011). Increasingly, however, to achieve success in a global economy, the individuals that make up our workforce must also be socially adept and highly creative. The “6Cs” – Collaboration, strong Communication, knowledge of Content, Critical thinking, Creative innovation, and Confidence to fail and try again – will be essential to our children’s future success. Many of these skills are not easily taught in the classroom; however, they are readily learned through play (Hirsch- Pasek & Golinkoff, 2003; Hirsch-Pasek et al., 2009; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2008).


During play we constantly work on math and language skills. In kindergarten children learn their first letters, learn about the number line and the numbers from 0-20, get in contact for the first time with simple addition and subtraction equations (below 10), learn about shapes, and meetkunde. By workjng with play, children often are creative.

During play children are exposed to all of these subjects but in a way that is interesting to them.

Take for example the play from the photo’ below:

Supermarket theme:

During one of our “what do we need for this theme?” brain sessions, the

child came up with the idea of making real receipts for in the supermarket.

For half an hour straight he was writing down numbers and adding

numbers up running up and down to find me to check if he had written the

numbers correctly. He was so motivated to learn them, and then

to think that they day before he would not even look at a number during our

number game. It totally proves that this child indeed wanted to learn!

Airport theme

Two kids were working with the “suitcase scanner” at our play airport.

Suddenly one of the suitcases wouldn’t fit and the two children came up with

the solution. They made a different, bigger, scanner. During the play-guided

time the children were busy measuring every suitcase to see if fit the newly

made scanner. During all this time the children were working on an important

math skill… measuring!


Facilitating Play

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn” (Bejamin Franklin)


A play-based approach involves both child-initiated and teacher-supported learning. The teacher encourages children’s learning and inquiry through interactions that aim to stretch their thinking to higher levels. A big part of our curriculum is therefore “guided-play” in which teachers scaffold children’s play by joining in the fun as co-player. In this way we can ask thoughtful questions, comment on children’s discoveries or encourage further exploration or new facets to the child’s activity. 

For example, if a group of children are playing holidays, the educator might pursue this interest by discussing holidays and travel with children to extend their knowledge and skills.

Class outings

“Learning is where knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984, p. 38)


All children want to do is to grow up. The real world is fascinating for children and therefore a perfect place to learn. In order to deepen the learning, we go out to experience the world which we are researching. In this way we can create the same world in the classroom. In addition we invite speakers to teach us about their profession.

Last year we had we created a real train station in the classroom and went to central station to explore it first. Another part of getting to know the real world is by meeting people. We invite speakers. We invite guest speakers!

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