To find activity examples, click on the circles.

Learning through Games
Free Play
Inquiry Play
Teacher Directed
Student Directed
What is playful learning ?

In playful learning, the teacher directs the academic outcomes, and the children influence the play narrative. In essence, teachers set up prescribed activities that contain playful elements.


Why do teachers use it?

Playful learning is used to support the learning of targeted academic skills in a manner that is playful and engaging for students. Teachers may use these prescribed activities to provide students with practice in math and literacy concepts that are part of whole class instruction.

What are some examples ?
  • Flower shop
  • Detectives
  • Mattlands
  • Terrarium
  • Keyboard exploration
  • Playdough sounds
  • Building with word families
  • Writing and drawing at the writing centre
  • Building structures in nature

Flower Shop

The teacher creates a flower shop, including order forms. Children fill out the order forms (flower type, flower colour, extras like balloons, and the total cost). The shopkeeper fills the customers’ orders. Students maintain control over some aspects of the play by requesting flowers for an event of their choosing (e.g., a picnic). Students voluntarily play out the picnic event with their flowers as a centerpiece. 

Suggested resources:

Various artificial flowers, toy cash register, tables and chairs, order forms to be filled out by students


The students are interested in dinosaurs. The teacher provides students with clue cards (e.g., “find 5 dinosaur skulls hidden around the classroom”). In this example, the students are expected to decode the numeral 5, read the sentence, and find the objects hidden in the classroom.  A student is assigned the role of “manager” and is in charge of checking the students’ work for the correct quantity of found objects.

Suggested Resources

Materials to create dinosaur clue cards, dinosaur figurines


The teacher reads the book Mattland, by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert, to the class. During the reading, the teacher asks guiding questions and students make comments, predictions, and connections. In groups, students create “mini worlds” with hula hoops and various materials in nature. The teacher takes photos of student creations. Students later examine the photos and explain what different features and materials represent in their mini worlds. Students use their creations as subjects for a writing piece.

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Suggested Resources

Hula hoops, materials found in nature (e.g., leaves, branches)


As an extension of an inquiry on trees, students watch a video on terrariums. In small groups, the teacher asks students the question, “What is a terrarium?” and student answers are recorded. Students are asked, “Do all plants or living things need sunlight to survive?” Different types of plants are added to the terrarium. Students observe the effect of sunlight on the plants. Students add plants, sticks, leaves, and other materials to the terrarium, and create labels and draw pictures of the contents.

Suggested Resources

Aquarium, plants, soil, leaves, sticks

Keyboard Exploration

As a result of student interest in building, the teacher brings in old keyboards and tools. Children are encouraged to use the tools to take apart the keyboards and explore. The teacher assists students in their learning by asking questions and sharing observations.

Suggested Resources

Old keyboards, screwdrivers, paper and pencils for observations

Playdough Sounds

The ECE and students use playdough together. The ECE asks students about their creations and they discuss the word for each object and initial sounds.

Suggested Resources


Building with Word Families

Building blocks have been labeled by the teacher with specific words. Students are encouraged to build towers based on word families (e.g., rhyming words).

Suggested Resources

Blocks, word labels

Writing and Drawing at the Writing Centre

Students write and draw with various materials at the writing centre.

Suggested Resources

Markers, crayons, pencils, paper

Building Structures in Nature

Students have already learned about different types of structures, such as teepees and A-frames. The teacher explains that students will be creating leaf fort structures outside from materials found in the forest.

Suggested Resources

Materials found in nature (e.g., leaves, sticks, branches)

We are the Play Learning Lab, run by Dr. Angela Pyle at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto.



Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study

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Toronto, ON M5R 2X2

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