How Preschoolers Learn

How Preschoolers Learn through Play

The preschool years (age birth to five) are crucial for brain development. In fact, 85% of total brain growth happens by age three! Preschoolers are taking in so much information and learning so much, all while doing it in their own little ways. When children are in the preschool years, they are still learning all new things and taking in the world around them, and putting everything they see and learn into categories in their minds (called adaptation), or they make new categories for totally new information (called accommodation). The best way to help them learn about the world around them and help them put information into those categories is through play!

Play is essential to early learning. It’s the main way that children develop ideas about the world, think critically, develop leadership skills, and solve problems. It’s particularly important to remember that play is not a break from learning, but how preschoolers learn. In discussing play and learning, Tommy Sanders wrote, “Playing and learning are inseparable for preschoolers. Play offers the greatest opportunity for Bible teaching. Through play, a child can learn and apply important truths, relate in positive ways to others, accept responsibility, and solve problems. But play is just activity unless the teacher guides the activity and discussion toward foundational biblical truths.”1

Pretend play, like the Homeliving activities in Mission Friends Leader; manipulatives, like the ones used in the blocks and manipulatives activities; and the music and movement activities are all forms of play that can help facilitate preschooler’s learning, particularly about missions! It’s important, as a leader, to realize that you can help them learn by helping them play. Don’t discourage productive playing! It’s important to keep your preschoolers on topic with the lesson, but it’s OK if some are playing while the rest do art or read books.

Positive play helps them develop the language, social skills, and self-control they will need to tell others about Jesus. As a leader, you can help your preschoolers learn by guiding their play, responding to their play by asking questions or even participating, and helping them extend their play by offering them more situations.

Allowing preschoolers to play promotes so much more than just having fun. It promotes their social skills, self-confidence, language skills, story-telling, emotional skills, and physical competence. Learning how to manipulate and test the world around them through play is a key factor for all future learning. As a Mission Friends leader, you get the chance to impact your students in a positive way, and help them learn the skills and knowledge they will need to grow into people of God and one day tell the next generation about Jesus and His mission.


1Tommy Sanders, “Eight Ways Preschoolers Learn,”

Kaitlyn Adams, preschool intern.


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