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How Play Helps Kids Learn: Insights from Phebe Anna Thorne School

Educators and researchers agree that including play in a child’s day is good for both their learning and their health. Sponsored by the Phebe Anna Thorne School.

“In play, a child is above his average age, above his daily behavior: In play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.” — Lev Vygotsky

Many parents wonder, as they visit academically-oriented preschools: What has happened to the role of play in early education? Educators and researchers agree that including play in a child’s day is good for both their learning and their health. At the Phebe Anna Thorne School, play is a cornerstone of their educational  philosophy. The school serves toddlers and preschoolers in their building on the Bryn Mawr campus, and has a Kindergarten Center on the Haverford College campus.

“Play engages young children and empowers them to learn,” said Julie Carson, a preschool teacher at Thorne, in an online interview. “Children who learn through play feel capable and supported, even when they have a lot to master. It’s fun for a child to try new things within a game, or to learn something in a hands-on way from a teacher or friend, when they know the environment is positive, relaxed, and playful. At Phebe Anna Thorne, we think fun and learning should go hand-in-hand — and play provides a very natural, child-centered way to blend the two.” 

Preschoolers participate in two extended periods of play (90 minutes inside and an hour outside), as well as in more structured activities. The playground beside the building is large and shady. 

Thorne’s full day kindergarten program also incorporates play. Children have three recesses, in addition to play times in the classroom.  Kindergartners have the opportunity to explore many areas of the Haverford College campus, from the duck pond and track to the art gallery and observatory. Teachers in the program stress the importance of play in the development of language, collaboration, and problem solving. 

The Thorne philosophy promotes age-appropriate play throughout the day and encourages children to grow socially, emotionally, and academically.  Language is critical.

“During play, children are able to practice and develop language skills in order to communicate ideas, negotiate, compromise and problem solve,” said Christine Dolor of the Kindergarten Center in an online interview. Communication skills develop organically and are reinforced by teachers. “At Thorne, children have the opportunity to share and learn new information about themselves and their peers,” she said.

How can you incorporate more time for play into your routine at home? Lead by example and put down your own electronics. Join your children and let them direct the play. Make capes from blankets and “save the world,” build towers with blocks, or have a tea party with stuffed animals. Your children will be developing their imaginations, verbal skills, and engineering abilities, and you’ll be sharing priceless bonding time with them.

If you’re interested in a play-based early education, explore a place like Thorne. The mission of Thorne is to provide play-based, developmentally appropriate, child-centered programs for toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners.  Want more information on the Phebe Anna Thorne school and their curriculum? Check out their website or reach out to Amanda Ulrich, Thorne’s director, for more information.


This post is a sponsored collaboration between Phebe Anna Thorne School and Family Focus Media. Photographs courtesy of Phebe Anna Thorne School. 

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aulrich@brynmawr.edu

Learning to Play, Playing to Learn: The mission of the Thorne School is to provide play-based, developmentally appropriate child-centered programs for toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners.

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