Teaching Through Play: No-Prep & Low-Prep Learning Games

Parents and caregivers spend a lot of time doing some pretty thankless jobs. There are bums to wipe and boogers to pick, spills to soak up and treasured pieces of actual garbage we are obliged to carry like precious cargo in our pockets. These jobs are important, to be sure, but they don’t earn us a lot of respect.

Sure, I have a Bachelor’s of Education, but don’t think for a minute that as parents and caregivers we need special training to have a direct impact on our children’s early educational development. We can teach our kids so much by being Professors of Play. And if being Professor Mom isn’t a title that earns you some esteem, it really should be.

Free to Use, Easy to Browse

Let me start by saying that this is NOT another screen-time activity to manage. McMaster University and the University of Toronto have put together Play&Learn, an easy-to-navigate website to help all of us parent-pedagogues enhance our children’s early years through play: real world play, indoors and outdoors.

Minimal Prep to Zero Prep

I’m not talking about lesson plans and textbooks, or games that require hours of preparation or an investment in materials. I’m talking about concrete, simple and impactful games and activities that you can play with your kids for just a few minutes a day. Many can be integrated into your daily routine: shopping at the grocery store, driving in the car or getting ready for bed.

From Toddler to Kindergarten

The activities on Play&Learn are divided into three age categories: toddler (1.5–2.5 years); preschool (2.5 years–4 years) and kindergarten (4 years–6 years).

I was very proud to discover that a lot of these research-backed games are things I have always done with my kids—things I mainly learned from my own mother! There’s nothing like finding out that things you already do are scientifically proven to benefit your progeny.

4 Developmental Domains

There are four categories of activities, depending on which area of development is most involved. There’s Thinking & Learning, Social & Emotional, Movement and Language. Naturally, most activities overlap multiple domains, and I found I could adapt most of the games so that both my preschooler and my kindergartener could partake.

Games We Love

Visual Scavenger Hunt

Taking our cues from the Visual Scavenger Hunt game, on a recent car ride we set about counting the number of cars in a certain colour as we drove. That was such a success that we kicked it up a notch on our next drive when both my son and I had to spy something starting with the letter “A,” then with “B,” until we made it to the end of the alphabet. My preschooler was in charge of finding all the school buses and playgrounds.

There were no complaints during the drive (except when I offered a suggestion for a letter and was apparently NOT supposed to be helping), and—bonus—my kids didn’t annoy each other in the back seat!

You can play this game absolutely anywhere, and it can be adapted infinitely to suit your child’s level and interests.

Alphabet Hunt

At home, I adapted the Alphabet Hunt game so they could play together while I made lunch. Being at home all day together in the summer, the two of them had really started to drive each other batty, but they totally cooperated to play this game!

My first grader reviewed the alphabet with enthusiasm not motivated by a bribe (yay for intrinsic motivation) while his preschool-aged sister started practising letters for the first time.

It took me about a minute to write out the alphabet and stick the letters around the living room and kitchen. Then my son started at the beginning of the alphabet and wrote each letter on the white board to show his sister which letter to hunt down. She placed the found letters in order on a kitchen cupboard.

I was impressed by how well they played this game together and how valuable it was for both of them from an educational perspective, without either of them knowing I was trying to teach something.

We made it to the letter “P” by the time lunch was ready, and when she was done eating, my preschooler went to the white board and wrote her very first letter—the letter “O”! While she was still interested, I got her to match the letters she’d stuck to the cupboard with the ones her brother had written. And when we were done, I’d spent enough active play time with both of my kids that they were blissfully ready to head off and play on their own for a while.

1,2,3 Sing

Even singing children’s songs (or really any song with lots of repetition) counts as Professor Mom curriculum. The site’s 1,2,3 Sing activity entails no more than learning a song with your child and singing it with them. (And let’s face it … you probably don’t have to look up lyrics to the theme song for Paw Patrol.)

You could also start a verse and see if they can finish it. My preschooler’s current jam is “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music and the 90s classic “What is Love?” by Haddaway. (You sing “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me …” and she’ll sing “No more!”)

Browse for 15 Minutes, Benefit for Years

If you spend 15 minutes clicking through Play&Learn on your phone or desktop, you’re likely to discover that games you’re already playing with your kids are actually contributing to their early learning, and you’ll be able to add a few more activities to your arsenal that will both kill time during a road trip or a long wait at the dentist and help them on their way to educational success. Best of all, the website is completely free!

Play&Learn Today!


This post is brought to you by Play&Learn from McMaster University and the University of Toronto but the images and opinions are my own.

One response to “Teaching Through Play: No-Prep & Low-Prep Learning Games”

  1. This is such a great idea! Off to check this out!

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Welcome to my Wolf Pack!

My name is Lindsay and I am a 40-year-old mama of four trying to live an eco-friendly, budget-friendly life! I am a substitute teacher and Child Passenger Safety technician in Calgary, Alberta. Join me on my adventures!

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