Play Has Purpose in Kindergarten
Play Has Purpose in Kindergarten
Posted on 09/12/2018

Early last school year, a parent approached kindergarten teacher Kim Kay.

"My daughter said that all she does is play in your class," the parent said. 

"I love it when they say that," Kay said. 

Play is a cornerstone of the kindergarten day in Central Kitsap Schools.

This may not sound like news to those with fond memories of dress-up trunks and building blocks. But following the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, many districts sought to better meet increased standards by adopting more formal activities. Out went play dough, in came more worksheets and drills.


A couple things have changed since then. CK and other districts made kindergarten a full day instead of a half day. A full day provides kids more time to learn as well as socialize and play.

Plus, a growing body of research has added weight to the value of play in children’s lives.  A 2015 study, for example, links positive social skills in kindergarten to academic success in high school and beyond. Psychologist Lev Vygotsky, whose work in the 1930s became a foundation for child development research, believed that learning happens through social interactions. He advocated play as “the work of children.” Simple fun often involves collaborating, problem solving and focusing attention on a task. All social skills that are prized in workplaces.

So, schools have brought back the play dough. They use games and toys in activities that both thrill wiggly 5-year-olds and help them build skills to meet academic goals.

"Young children are wired to move and experience and touch and be messy and noisy," Kay said. Teachers craft activities to harness that wiring to help kids build skills. 


On a school day, students in Kay's classroom may read menus and talk about costs in a play restaurant. In another corner, they dip a pole in a bucket to fish for words starting with a certain letter. In yet another corner, several students surround Kay for a more direct lesson.

In other classrooms, activities might look like a hunt around the room for word matches, increasing recognition of sight words. Or play a game of card war to talk about greater than or less than.

Teachers can tweak these activities to help each child build up their skill level.

All the while, students are helping each other or working out conflicts with occasional gentle guidance from their teachers.

Learning is no less rigorous, just less rigid. 

By the end of the school year, most kindergarteners will read and write full sentences, add and subtract, take turns discussing books with their peers and more.

So Many Questions

Never had a child in school before? If so, you may have a lot of questions. We’ve compiled a list of the questions families frequently ask us, from “What can I do to help my child get ready?” to “What’s a slow start?”

» Get answers in our Kindergarten FAQs


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