Play-Based Learning

hammernails Why choose a play-based preschool? And what does “play-based” mean?

There are many types of preschool that reflect different educational philosophies. A “play-based” program understands that children are wired to learn best through play, and that children need many opportunities to engage in play each day. Stone School does feature teacher-led full-group times which all children participate in. There are parent and teacher-led small group activities that children may choose to do. There is also lots of time for children to choose their own activities. The teachers set up certain types of activities and projects each day – an art project, a math game, and a fine-motor activity, for example. The teachers ensure that all kinds of activities are offered each week, exposing students to early literacy, early math, fine motor, science, and other types of experiences. During choice time, the children may choose to do any or all of these activities for as long as they like. They do not have to choose any of the teacher-selected activities, however, and are free to play in the dress up area, the block area, the gross motor play area in the basement, and so on.


“Play-based” does NOT mean that the children do nothing but play. The students are learning academic, social, and self-help skills each day. But they learn those things through developmentally appropriate play experiences rather than through only teacher-directed table activities. Three and four year olds are not developmentally ready to sit at a table and do worksheets for long stretches of time. Some students enjoy sitting and coloring, or doing mazes, or other similar activities. We do sometimes offer an activity like this as a choice, for those who are interested. But three and four year olds primarily learn from active play, interacting with classroom materials and with their classmates.



How does our play-based preschool program prepare your child for Kindergarten?

We believe that you, the parents, are your child’s first and most important teachers. Our job at SSCP is to support you, to help give your child a joyful first school experience, and to help prepare your child for a happy and successful year in Kindergarten and beyond. We offer “academics” in a play-based format. Your child will have lots of exposure to and experience with pre-reading, pre-writing, and early math skills and concepts, as well as science and social studies. We work on fine motor skills, which are essential for learning how to write. We focus a lot on “group behavior” skills – how to interact and play with other children, deal with conflicts, wait for a turn, sit quietly on the rug at group times, etc.


Many area districts have an assessment for incoming K students that covers the following skills and knowledge, asking if students can:

– count sets of objects up to 20, using 1 to 1 correspondence

– compare 2 sets of objects

– identify uppercase letters

– identify colors

– identify shapes

– show developing scissors skills

– show a basic understanding of how to handle a book

– write their first name (mixed uppercase and lowercase letters are fine)

– recognize their written name

– draw a basic self-portrait (it may have items such as arms sprouting out of the head, etc.)


Kindergarten teachers also hope that students are able to do these things:

– separate from parents

– give and take in playing and interacting with peers

– share

– talk out problems

– take the initiative to complete work, find something or someone to play with, make a new friend

– handle going to the bathroom and dealing with clothing independently


– handle eating lunch as independently as possible

– label emotions and be progressing in socially appropriate expressions of feelings

– know how good it feels to be part of a cohesive group

Our teachers work on all of these things with their classes over the course of the school year. We also help inform families about developmentally appropriate skills and activities to try with their children at home, to extend what the children are learning and working on at school. We hear from many Stone School alumni families each year that their children were well-prepared for Kindergarten and were able to have positive school experiences in K and beyond.


There is lots of information online about the importance of play and the benefits of play-based programs, so much so that it can be overwhelming for parents to make sense of what they find. Here are links to some parent-friendly articles that address play-based preschools and children’s play in general: