Play is the work of the child
– Jean Piaget

When I recall the happy moments I had as a child, it always involved playing outside with my bro and neighbours. We could typically be found exploring the ditches in front of our house after a good rain, tossing leaves into the water, and following the leaves as far as the ditch water would go. We hid treasures in the woods behind our house for safekeeping, and built a majestic treehouse in the forest with questionable plumbing, and acted out great tales of superhero battles. This was the foundation for my happiness as a child – playing outside: exploring, creating, imagining, acting, imitating, building, wondering… playing.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Play… consists of those activities performed for self-amusement that have behavioral, social, and psychomotor rewards. It is child-directed, and the rewards come from within the individual child; it is enjoyable and spontaneous.
The Encyclopedia of Children’s Health

When the new preschool program was recently released by the Ministry of Education, I was floored that the foundation is built around PLAY! Along with the new program, comes a new cycle in preschool, including both four-year-old Kindergarten and five-year-old Kindergarten spanning over two years. The new program orientations state that, “play is the ideal way for children to learn and develop their full potential.” After dissecting the program, I started to understand that the philosophy is not simply preparation for grade one, it is about developing the whole child and life skills. One of the main aims for educators is to create a rich environment where play can flourish to allow children “to explore, create, improvise, portray a role, manipulate and so on” (MEQ, 2021). Recommending that our preschool children have a minimum of TWO forty-five to sixty minutes a day for “free play” will help develop all the big, important stuff in themselves and the world around them.

The preschool program, similar to all the programs in Quebec, has competencies at its heart. The five competencies bring a particular focus on the holistic development of the child with the end of cycle outcomes focusing on development of the competencies through observable behaviour instead of grades.

Let’s have a closer look at the five competencies and the suggested activities that get children developing to their fullest through play.
They are:

– increases physical and motor development,
– builds self-awareness,
– maintains harmonious relationships with others,
– communicates using oral and written language,
– discovers the world around them (MEQ, 2021).

Physical and Motor Development

The focuses for development with this competency looks at the child’s motor skills and healthy lifestyle habits.
For example, the student:

– develops body awareness,
– explores different ways of moving,
– explores concepts of time and the world of food,
– learns about safety.

All of which create a rich environment for observing the child’s development of this competency.

Image by 이룬 봉 from Pixabay

Emotional Development

Through play, students build self-awareness via self-knowledge.
For example, the student:

– expresses own emotions,
– regulates emotions,
– recognizes one’s’ own needs and,
– gains self-confidence in themselves.

Social Development

In this competency, students develop their ability to “maintain harmonious relationships with others,” the focus of development is two fold; sense of belonging and social skills.
For example:

– openness to others, collaboration with others and participation in class,
– creates connections with others, regulates own behaviour, and resolves conflict.

Language Development

Children should develop and use oral and written language through play. Now this is not to say that the child has to read and write by the end of the cycle, no, it means introducing children to oral and written language in a playful way.
For example, the student:

– develops phonological awareness through nursery rhymes,
– knows the sounds of most of the alphabet via singing songs,
– plays restaurant waiter and scribbles the order on a pad.

Children need to develop their understanding of language through play, not worksheets. Remember that we are developing the child for a full life and not just for grade one.

Cognitive Development

The child starts to develop a sense of the world around them through thinking skills and strategies.
For example, the student:

– uses reasoning skills and imagination and,
– explores different actions and explains the actions taken.

This competency allows the child to acquire new knowledge relating to subject areas, without explicitly teaching them, for example math or science. Play is at the core of the program. Ideally, students are discovering their imaginations and reasoning skills through interacting with the world around them.

“Through play, more than any other activity, children achieve mastery of the external world.”
– Bruno Bettelheim

Another great addition to the new preschool cycle is the direct actions an educator can take to help the student develop these five competences.
For example, the student:

– explores the world of food,
– names foods,
– tastes new foods and,
– identifies healthy snacks.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
– George Bernard Shaw

All of the areas of development have these wonderful and practical ideas for educators to implement with their students. Play is at the center of the whole preschool cycle. It is only through play that our youngest learners truly develop themselves for their world. The formula is not complicated: our students benefit from environments where creativity, imagination, and tinkering allows them to flourish.


Ministère de l’Éducation du Québec. Québec Education Program: Preschool Education, Elementary Education. Gouvernement du Québec, 2021.