Our Programs

Play-based Learning

The children’s program is based on indoor and outdoor play-oriented activities.  

Community service learning resource

Developed for: Beverly Daycare Society

Emma Kieftenbeld, Erin Berthelsen, Chloe Smith & Kaylin Berlinguette

University of Alberta

KRLS 421: Play Leadership



Hello staff members, volunteers, and parents of Beverly Day Care Society! We are students attending the University of Alberta who have the privilege of being partnered with your organization. We are excited to help others better understand the learning and developmental growth that can occur within the realm of play. We have come to understand the theories and discussion around play, and are excited to see how these can apply to practical, real-life situations. We have created the following document, which is a resource focusing on sharing the importance and benefits of play in human development, as well, it contains 24 activities that you can facilitate with your daycare class or individual children at home. The activities we have generated for you are broken down into four types: creative play, locomotor play, fantasy play and exploratory play. Each section will contain a brief description of the benefits that come with the specific play types and then will be followed up by the activity explanation of how to do it and the resources you will need. These activities have been designed for the age population of 3-5 year olds, however we strived for the activities to be expanded on and adaptable for older populations. We are proud to have aligned these activities to Beverly’s values of child-centered play, as we also believe every child should experience choice, adventure, and development within their free-play endeavors. We look forward to your child’s next play adventure!

Research and Developmental Benefits of Creative Play

Creative play is one of many play types, and it can be defined as “play that allows children to explore, try out new ideas and use their imagination” (Hughes, 2002). It is a play type that involves learning through actual doing and exploration, rather than being in a strict and structured classroom. One component that supports creative play is the idea of “loose parts” which are materials that can be rearranged, redesigned, moved, and much more. They invite your child to explore endless possibilities for imagination, curiosity, and questioning how the world around them works. Exposing your child to creative play activities allows them the opportunity to grow and develop socially, intellectually and even physically, in a fun and new way. 

Social development, which is the process by which kids learn how to interact with others, build relationships and handle conflict with peers, is a fundamental aspect in life and needs to be worked on at a young age. Creative play can be a time to allow kids to interact amongst themselves, thus learning the basic social skills every child ages 3-5 should be starting to work on. The Children’s Hospital of Richmond (2021) states that these learnings include knowing how to share/take turns, trying to control emotions more, being able to initiate play with others and begin friendships. Creative play is the perfect opportunity for your child to talk about their creation with other peers and learn new ways of doing things.

Intellectual development is simply the ability to think, reason and make sense of the world around you. Through creative play, children can engage in the learning of numbers and words, self-expression and problem solving skills. By children having the opportunity to explore new ideas and objects through the involvement of loose parts, children will expand their own understanding and knowledge on what the world is. The development in this area is fundamental, because as your child grows older their figurative world will grow as well, and they will encounter more complex problems. Thus your child will need to understand the skills of reasoning and make sense of their world, which is done through exploration via creative play. 

Furthermore, whether your child is painting, dancing or building, there will be a physical development benefit to engaging in creative play. These developments will present themselves both within the gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills involve the ability to move the larger muscles within the body such as legs, arms and torso. Developing this type of skill in kids ages 3-5 is very important as it will help them with their body awareness, reaction time, balance and overall strength. In comparison, fine motor skills include the ability to use the smaller extremities, such as one’s hands, in a more refined way. For children around the ages 3-5, development of the fine motor skills will present itself through the manipulation of objects which includes scissor use, learning how to draw/write, beginning to button and unbutton, and feeding oneself (Little Gym, 2021). Depending on the creative activity your child is participating in, they will hopefully be able to practice and work on these motor skills, which in turn will help them explore and perform in the world around them with more ease. 

Research and Developmental Benefits of Locomotor Play

Locomotor play is also known as physical activity play and can be defined as “movement for its own sake and in any possible direction” (Play Wales, 2017). This can include a wide variety of activities such as walking, running, hopping, climbing, dancing, ball games, and many others – essentially any play that moves your body from place to place! Locomotor play promotes physical activity and fitness including coordination, balance, strength, and motor skills, which all play a crucial role in your child’s health and development. Considering the current concerns regarding children’s health and development, specifically in regard to the rising obesity rates associated with excessive sedentary behaviors among children, promoting locomotor play is essential. In one study and their assessment of physical activity among children in child care, preschoolers were presented with significantly fewer than recommended physical activity opportunities (Tandon et al., 2015). Tandon et al. (2015) suggest that more active play opportunities are needed to increase physical activity, which includes more outdoor time and more teacher-led and child-initiated active play. Locomotor activities provided below include a mix of child-initiated and play facilitator led activities and can be adapted to either the indoor or outdoor environment. Benefits from play, specifically pertaining to locomotor play, are both experienced while the child is playing in the present moment, and develop over time. For example, it not only offers a wide variety of physical experiences for children, but social and intellectual experiences as well. Locomotor play presents children with the opportunity to explore and enjoy freedom, exercise, and control over their actions (National Playing Fields Association, 2000). In turn, over time it supports children’s well-being, growth, and healthy development (NPFA, 2000). While locomotor play stresses the benefits of physical health and fitness, it is also a significant facilitator for children’s learning and development. Particularly, active/locomotor play has been shown to have positive effects on children’s self-regulation and their ability to manage emotions and behaviors (Williams, 2018). Progressively through play, children come to increase their understanding and knowledge, promoting their capacity to learn. The diverse locomotor play activities provided below offer an assortment of gross motor skills like hopping, running, skipping, and kicking that allow children to learn and have fun while moving around easily! 

Fantasy Play Research and Developmental Benefits

Fantasy play is a type of play where children are able to use abstract and represent anything from their imagination. In this play form, a bowl can become a hat, a box can become a ship, the floor could become lava and a person can become a king or queen. This type of play helps with the development of children’s emotional intelligence and social capabilities as well as their ability to develop intelligence regarding their own emotions and behaviours. Rather than fantasy play being a distraction, it can actually help children in achieving having an open mind. Exposure to fantasy play is an excellent way for children to escape reality and embrace their inner creativity.   

This play form has a significant impact on children’s ability to be creative and developpe creative minds as well as their ability to interact with others and form social relationships. The relationship between affective and cognitive processes in fantasy play and emotional understanding have been studied and proven to have a strong connection to each other (Seja, 1999). Emotional understanding can be defined as “the process by which people make inferences about their own and others’ feelings and behaviors that in turn influence their thoughts and actions” (Seja, 1999). Given this definition, it is evident why developing an understanding of emotions is an important process in child development (Seja, 1999). Thus, given evidence proving the consistent relations between fantasy play and emotional understanding, it becomes obvious why fantasy play has positive personal and social benefits for children.    

Further, the understanding of emotions is important in children’s play because it contributes to children’s “ability to redirect and control displays of emotion and emotional experience to accurately interpret and react to others emotional displays and to anticipate how decisions and situations will affect one’s feelings” (Seja, 1999). Through fantasy play, children are able to develop these connections and social cues which help in social and intellectual development. In order for children to be capable of discussing their own emotional experiences, children need to be capable of interpreting internal cognitive signals and fantasy play helps develop their awareness of these internal signals (Seja, 1999).  

In addition, fantasy play provides physical benefit for children as it gets them moving around and playing. Fantasy play has a lot of room for creativity and thus often gets children moving around and participating in all different types of physical tasks whether it be jumping on pillows to cross the lava floor or running around pretending they are an airplane.  

Fantasy play can also provide intellectual stimulation for children as they are required to use their imaginations  (Song, 2005). When examining children who use fantasy play to create fantasy worlds or friends, they are believed to have a developmental advantage as these ways of using one’s imagination can act as “stones on the road of emotional development” (Song, 2005). This exemplifies the “power of make believe” and how engagement in fantasy play can help stimulate and develop children’s minds in intellectual, creative and emotional capacities (Song, 2005).

Research and Developmental Benefits of Exploratory Play

Do you like to explore? Exploratory play Uses your senses such as smell, taste, touch and hearing sounds. Children will explore textures, listen to noises, handle objects and discover how things work in the world around them. This type of play can be beneficial for a child’s cognitive development. Often we can see this type of play combined with creative or locomotor play.‘’Research among many disciplines and decades shows that play appears to be the principal or leading way in which children explore and make sense of experience’’ (Moylett, 2013). Exploratory play can also be therapeutic. ‘’Children will use play to explore unresolved problems from the past.’’(Brown, F., Patte, M. 2013). It is believed that this kind of play can improve children’s problem solving skills. Exploratory play can involve many things such as sand, water, mud, clay, paint and rocks, and that’s  just to name a few. 


When playing Children learn from experimentation. According to (Moyett, 2013)  ‘’To become confident learners children need to gain mastery of their environment through play and exploration’’. Give exploratory play a try with the activities below. An important aspect of exploratory play is messy play! So make a mess and have fun!


Brown, F., & Patte, M. (2013). Rethinking Children’s Play. (P. Jones, Ed.) Bloomsbury.

Brown, K. (2017, November 2). How 3-5 year olds learn through play. Goodstart.


Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. (2021). Developmental milestones. 


Hughes, B. (2002) A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types. 2nd edition,

London: https://eclass.srv.ualberta.ca/pluginfile.php/6628089/mod_resource/content/1/16


Moylett, H. (2013). Characteristics of effective early learning: Helping young children become. Open University Press

National Playing Fields Association. (2000, September). Best Play Book. University of Alberta

KRLS 421 Eclass Page. http://www.playengland.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/best-play.pdf

Play Wales. (2017, October). Play types. University of Alberta KRLS 421 Eclass Page. 


Rintoul, M. A. (2021, February 10). Enriching play environments. [PowerPoint slides].

University of Alberta KRLS 421 Eclass Page.


Schulz, L. E., & Bonawitz, E. B. (2007). Serious fun: Preschoolers engage in more exploratory

 play when evidence is confounded. Developmental Psychology, 43(4), 1045–1050. 


Seja, A. L., & Russ, S. W. (1999). Children’s fantasy play and emotional understanding. Journal

         of Clinical Child Psychology, 28(2), 269.https://doi-org.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca


Song, S. (2005). The Power of MAKE-BELIEVE. TIME Magazine, 165(7), 48–49.

Spencer, R. A., Joshi, N., Branje, K., McIssac, J.-L. D., Cawley, J., Rehman, L., Kirk, S. F., &

 Stone, M. (2019). Educator perceptions on the benefits and challenges of loose parts in 

the outdoor environments of childcare centres. AIMS Public Health, 6(4), 461-476. 


Tandon, P. S., Saelens, B. E., & Christakis, D. A. (2015). Active play opportunities at child care. 

Pediatrics, 135(6), e1425–e1431. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2014-2750

The Little Gym International Inc. (2021). The importance of creative play for kids. The Big


Williams, S. E. (2018). Importance of active play. Journal of Childhood Obesity. Retrieved

April 11, 2021, from https://childhood-obesity.imedpub.com/importance-of-active-play.php?aid=22563

Specific considerations

In the first 5 years of life, children are forming neural pathways and connections!

Children’s brains are shaped by many skills developed in play, such as:

  • Creativity
  • Communication 
  • Problem-solving
  • Resilience
  • Emotional regulation 
  • Relationship building

(Brown, 2017)

Associative Play:

At age 3-4, children become more interested in other children and begin to interact and understand how to get along with others

Cooperative Play:

Children 4 years + begin to play together, having interest in both the activity & other children involved

(Rintoul, 2021)