5 Tips for Connecting Play and Learning

The busy schedules in many of our lives often require play and learning to be very separate.  School from 8:30-1.  Gymnastics at 2.  Homework from 4-5.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I find that my daughter is most interested in learning when it’s combined with some playtime.  Here are five mother tested and kid approved tips for Connecting Play and Learning.  Keep reading for a great giveaway, too!  Tiggly, the maker of a new way for preschoolers to play and learn math, kindly gave us two sets of Tiggly Counts.  One for The Babe to try and one for you to win!

Here are 5 ways to connect learning with playing for preschoolers.

5 Tips for Connecting Play and Learning

We try to follow a bit of the Reggio Emilia approach to learning in our house.  The philosophy, developed by Italian educator Loris Malaguzzi in the post-WWII era, has a few main principles that apply to our home:

  • Children are the architects of their own learning.  They are natural researchers with limitless curiosity that they need to satisfy.
  • Their environment is an important teacher.  Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, and observing.
  • Social collaboration teaches more than teamwork.  Children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that they must be allowed to explore.
  • Learning is limitless.  Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves.

If you read carefully, a lot of those things happen during playtime.  So based upon these principles, here are 5 tips for connecting play and learning that I incorporate into our after-schooling and into our life.  To help illustrate these tips, I pulled some pictures from my Instagram account…  Every day I Instagram what’s happening in our day to day life, including how we connect play and learning.  To see more ideas as they happen, follow me on Instagram :)

1.  Think interesting.

This one isn’t rocket science…  If kids are interested, they’ll stay engaged in what they’re doing.  To help my daughter stay engaged in learning, whether it’s reading or math or science, we try to incorporate things that she’s interested in.  So if The Babe is into ponies this week, we find ways for her to see some real live ponies or we go to the library to read My Little Pony books.  A couple of months ago, she was really into playing hair salon.  So we got out the Velcro hair curlers to practice building techniques and to do some math pattern recognition activities.  Oh and she gave Mom a new hairdo, too…

Best building blocks ever! #tbt #playmatters

A photo posted by Anne (@leftbraincraftbrain) on

2.  Think active.

There’s a reason that numbered hopscotch squares are on every playground in America.  Have you seen that recent article floating around that talks about how exercise makes your brain more effective?  Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus portion of the brain.  The hippocampus is critical to verbal memory and learning.  So exercise to be smarter!  Zoos (like our favorite, Oakland Zoo) are a great way to get in some exercise while learning all about the animals.  Today’s visit included two hours of walking plus some great physical imitations of frogs and chimpanzees.

Frog rider #playmatters #kidlife #oaklandzoo A photo posted by Anne (@leftbraincraftbrain) on

3.  Think outside.

Nature is an amazing thing.  So much sophisticated science packed into such a peaceful package.  Here, The Babe and her bestie look for fish and tadpoles and watch as the water ripples from the rocks they threw in.  Playful biology, botany and physics, all in one little pond.

Watching tadpoles #learnthroughnature #kidlife #playmatters #momsoninstagram A photo posted by Anne (@leftbraincraftbrain) on

4.  Think timing.

This one’s the tough one…  I have the luxury to time learning activities with my daughter because she only goes to preschool a few days a week.  The rest of the time, we can schedule as we see fit.  But sometimes I get the timing off, like that day at the grocery store…  So when it comes down to learning, I try to figure out the best time in the day for her.  Often morning means more energy, means willingness to learn and more desire to play.  And the best experiences together too!

I guess she WAS too tired to go to the grocery store. #oops #madeiteasier

A photo posted by Anne (@leftbraincraftbrain) on

5.  Think together.

For my highly extroverted child, learning in groups is a lot more fun than being by herself.  She showcases that traditional extroverted trait of gaining energy from others vs. within.  I see it when she goes walking (like the two hour zoo trip today) but I especially see it when she is working on skills.  With a partner to learn with, her attention span suddenly gets longer. If your kiddo is more of an introvert, you might want to Think Apart :)  

Best friends since 1. #FriendsMatter A photo posted by Anne (@leftbraincraftbrain) on

Screen Time is Learning Time

I’ll be honest here…  We are not a screen-free house.  Mainly because as the stay-at-home mom whose kiddo dropped her last nap at two and extreme extroverted nature requires people interaction constantly, I needed help.  But I didn’t want that help to come solely in the form of mindless cartoons.  I want to combine play and learning!  Enter educational apps on the iPad.  We have tried a lot and my newest favorite is Tiggly Counts.

Tiggly Counts is the first iPad math toy for preschoolers.  Have you seen classic Montessori-inspired cuisenaire rods? (They were new to me.)  These multi-color, multi-length rods were developed as a way for kids to visually experience math functions such as arithmetic and fractions.  Tiggly Counts {affiliate} brings these into the digital age with a set of cuisenaire rods that interact with your iPad.  The rods combine with three fun apps, Chef, Cardtoons and Addventure, to help teach basic math skills.Tiggly Counts Left Brain Craft Brain The Babe was definitely intrigued at first by the Tiggly set.  Since she’s not in a Montessori style preschool, the rods and how to use them were all new.  Enter learning curve and standard three year old frustration.  But once she got a handle of how to place them on the screen, she was much more engaged.  Now I can sense the beginning foundation of addition taking hold in her brain. And later, I found her sitting in the corner sneakily playing Addventure with the rods when I thought she was playing with her other toys.  If only she realized that she’s learning as much as she’s playing!  I can’t wait to see how her skills grow…

More Play & Learning Ideas

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4 thoughts on “5 Tips for Connecting Play and Learning”

    1. leftbraincraftbrain

      That’s definitely what attracted me to Tiggly. I reached out to them to see if they’d send us a set to try!

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