Play and Creative Expression in Child Care

Children and adults playing on the floor

As most child care professionals know, play is much more than a way to keep children busy between “important” activities. Hands-on exploration through play is the primary way that young children learn about their world and build their physical, cognitive, emotional, and social skills. Some of the best ways that child care providers can support young children’s development are by scheduling adequate opportunities for children to play, planning interesting activities that engage children’s imagination, providing engaging and varied materials, and …

The Sand and Water Center in Child Care

Child playing at water table

Sand and Water Play Supports Children’s Development

Sensory play – including play with sand, water, Styrofoam peanuts, bubbles, beans, dirt, and other materials – can be an important part of the child care classroom or family child care home. Children exploring in the sensory center are learning some important skills.

  • Math and science skills: Sand and water play introduces scientific concepts such as sinking, floating, and changes of state (e.g., dry to wet). Exploring sand, water, and other sensory

Planning a Successful Sand and Water Center

Girl playing at water table

The sand and water center, sometimes known as the sensory center, is a great place for young children to explore, experiment, and practice fine motor skills. Playing with sand, water, and other sensory materials helps promote development and teach math and science skills. This center provides the opportunity for children to explore with all their senses.

Setting Up a Sand and Water Center in Your Classroom

  • Location: The sand and water center, or sensory center, can be set up

The Music Center in Child Care

Toddlers playing with xylophones

Music Supports Children’s Development

A music center is an important part of any child care program. Listening to music, singing, playing musical instruments, and moving to music are all activities that support children’s development across several different domains.

  • Language development: Children practice words and phrases in repeating patterns by listening to and singing songs. They also become aware of the rhythms of language and the patterns of poetry. These skills help them become better at understanding and producing language

The Manipulatives/Table Toys Center in Child Care


Multilink cubes

Manipulatives and Table Toys Support Children’s Development

A wide variety of materials used in child care and early education programs fall into the category of “manipulatives,” including different types of building bricks and toys, collections of objects for sorting, small dolls and animals, and many other types of toys. Manipulatives, sometimes referred to as table toys, are an important part of the early childhood curriculum because children can use them to practice a wide variety of skills. Some …

The Dramatic Play Center in Child Care

Pretend grocery store

Dramatic Play Supports Children’s Development

Engaging in dramatic play enhances young children’s development. Pretending builds social skills, makes children more aware of their own emotions, and encourages shared language and problem solving. As children play and interact in the dramatic play center in an early childhood program, they practice skills in the following areas:

  • Social/emotional: negotiating different roles and themes, cooperating to keep the play happening, acting out roles and situations
  • Physical: using large and small muscles to

The Science and Nature Center in Child Care

Children looking at bug

Science and Nature Support Children’s Development

Exploring the natural world through hands-on science is an important way that children learn. Hands-on science activities encourage children to observe and manipulate items from the environment, while making predictions about what will happen and then testing those predictions. Science allows children to explore, experiment, question, discover, and understand natural and human-made objects and forces. Experiments and activities with science and nature also stimulate children’s curiosity, encourage use of all five senses, and help …

Planning a Successful Dramatic Play Center in Child Care

Dramatic play area
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license. Photo posted to Flickr by Diane Bales on November 23, 2015 with title “Dramatic play area”.

Dramatic play allows children to express themselves and use creativity. It also introduces symbolic thinking and encourages cooperation among children. In a dramatic play center, children will often act out behaviors and actions they see in real life (such as shopping at the grocery store) as well as make-believe situations (such as a princess in a castle).

Setting

Planning a Successful Manipulatives/Table Toys Center in Child Care

manipulative toys on shelves

Manipulatives and table toys give children the opportunity to develop their fine motor skills while exploring different numbers, shapes, and colors. This center should have easily manageable materials for children.

Setting Up a Classroom Center for Manipulatives and Table Toys

  • Location: This center should be in an area with table(s) and chairs, or a quiet floor area with a rug. Because working with manipulatives requires quiet concentration, it may be best to separate this area from noisy areas such

Using Learning Centers in Child Care

Learning centers in an ECE program

Learning centers are a purposeful way of dividing up your classroom into different subject/learning areas. The location of each learning center, placement of any furnishings or equipment, and easily available materials give a clear message to the child about what is to take place in that area.

Planning for Learning Centers

Establishing the centers requires some initial planning, work, and possible expense, but once they are established they save time and money. For example, you don’t want to place the …