Have ARP/ESSER Funds? YES! Pitsco solutions qualify under federal guidelines. Learn more
Home > About Us > Fun and impactful: Making meaning of their world through play

Fun and impactful: Making meaning of their world through play

Published October 11, 2022

Additional Getting an Early Start with Growing Hands, Minds, and Hearts articles:

“Play is the highest form of research,” at least according to Einstein. And, really, who are we to argue? Play helps children organically process surroundings and situations and provides time for them to explore and begin trusting themselves and their abilities. Children are, by and large, their most imaginative, creative, spirited, and delightful during their childhood years.

Unfortunately, most people tend to veer away from play as we get older, or it becomes more organized play. We start school, and life suddenly becomes more scheduled, more serious, more driven. We might join a sports or other competitive team or take up an instrument. With more technology, more entertainment and social options, more societal demands, and just more in general, there are generally fewer expectations, less freedom, and minimal opportunity to be bored, to engage our curiosity, and to wonder. Further, often, children who are particularly creative or artistic by nature tend to tune out or quickly lose interest in school. The structure and the need to constantly perform become too much.


School doesn’t have to be this way, however, especially for early learners. The play that infants and toddlers engage in serves an important purpose.

“Play is the way children learn about the world around them,” says Emma Smith, “and it should be an important part of their early education at home and in school.”

Smith, the K-5 STEM instructor at Broadway Elementary in Broadway, NC, says that children learn a number of things through play. “Play encourages imagination, develops literacy and numeracy skills, and aids in emotional and physical development.”

Stephanie Jones, a professor of early childhood development at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, seems to agree. “In addition to promoting curiosity, exploration, and creativity, play provides children with the opportunity to practice important executive function and self-regulation skills like paying attention, inhibiting their impulses, and remembering and updating information,” she says (“The Importance of Learning Through Play”).


Best practices in early childhood education are clear that hands-on opportunities in a child’s natural environment, such as those activities experienced through hands-on play, promote basic developmental skills that later become skills and competencies that last for many years and lead to both educational and professional success.

Rooted in the work of education psychologists and constructivists such as John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky, as well as early childhood studies such as those done by the HighScope® Educational Research Foundation, hands-on, immersive learning taps into the human brain’s aptitude not just for knowledge retention but also for knowledge construction. It provides children the opportunity to develop skills rather than memorize content.


There are numerous ways to incorporate play, both in the classroom and at home. “Parents and teachers can help students learn through hands-on play and discovery,” says Smith. “Provide opportunities for unstructured play. Encourage them to organize random items in any way that makes sense to them and then ask them to explain their choices.”

Further, play can include more than just toys. “Rocks, kitchen utensils, shoes, boxes . . . anything can fuel imaginative play,” says Smith. “At home, parents can involve their children in cooking, either real or play. Measuring, stirring, chopping, and scooping are all skills that require understanding of math concepts.”

In fact, Smith says many hands-on play activities help children learn those all-important STEM and soft skills future employers are looking for! “Teachers can provide Hot Wheels cars to teach force and motion, or flashlights when teaching the phases of the moon. Board games reinforce skills in math, reading, problem-solving, and communication. . . . Providing soft-start activities in the classroom such as STEM bins makes for a more inviting, creative learning environment.”


When Broadway Elementary’s STEM program began in 2019, Smith was excited to introduce her students to hands-on STEM activities. She created nine centers for students to choose from, including building blocks, puzzles, crafts, games, an investigation center, a magnetic marble maze, and more!

In 2020, the pandemic hit, and Smith had to come up with new ways for students to engage in hands-on STEM learning – at home. Luckily for her students, she adapts quickly! She created at-home STEM activities that made it easy for her students to continue learning through play.

“There are many STEM challenges students can complete at home,” says Smith. “Our favorite activity was cup stacking. Students used a pack of plastic or paper cups to build the tallest tower, a wall, or a skyscraper. Some built pyramids while others alternated up-and-down-facing cups to make a spire. Others placed toys or rocks on top of their towers to see if it would hold up.”

Smith’s students also enjoyed activities such as creating maps of their bedroom, house, or backyard, and creating marble mazes. “They measured and designed furniture to include in their maps,” says Smith. “And, for the marble mazes, they used LEGO® bricks, cardboard, empty paper towel tubes, pool noodles, and more.”

Children grow up and become serious about life so quickly as it is. Why not let them continue to enjoy hands-on, creative, imaginative play for as long as possible? As we’ve seen, there’s so much more to play than simply having fun!


If you’re unsure how to get your students started in hands-on STEM play, Pitsco can help! The following solutions will be sure to engage your early learners in hands-on, creative, playful learning.

“Pitsco always thinks about the student AND the teacher. Always right there ready to answer any questions, no matter how small they may seem. Very friendly and helpful.”

– Jackie Derr, STEM lab teacher, Perrysburg Junior High School, Perrysburg, Ohio

We enable young learners to develop the mind-set, skill set, and tool set needed for future success.

Get Started