This doesn’t look like a classroom but what a great science lab for home schooling!

After so many weeks with schools still closed, I’m sure you know at least one parent who has reached the end of her tether desperately trying to home school the children and keep them occupied. The solution is really very simple. Home schooling through imaginative play provides more learning than all the lessons a parent could ever devise. The good news is they don’t have to play teacher.

Imaginative Play

Play that is self-directed and creative, unlike the structured play of sports or “playing” on a computer is the way children learn that which no one could teach them. Imaginative play springs from deep within the child and without the interference of contrived activities or teacher-directed lessons, develops the whole child – cognitive, social, emotional and aesthetic. There are many studies that demonstrate the value of imaginative play as a foundation for all areas of academic learning.https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/10-things-every-parent-play

Self-directed imaginative play comes natural to young children. It begins around age three when imagination starts to emerge and continues through out life if allowed. Unfortunately, this rich form of learning is discouraged far too early and by the middle years, is often replaced by memorizing stuff that has no meaning for the child.

Home schooling through imaginative play is not scripted drama but self-directed learning through which children explore experiences. In the early years, the theme for the play will always be something that they have experienced and will reflect their environment. In southern Ontario, for example, even preschoolers know about the pizza delivery and this has largely replaced the time-honored tea party in their play. While in northern Labrador I joined the kindergarten children as they pretended to roared around on their snowmobiles checking trap lines. This is the world these children knew. There wasn’t a pizza place to be had.

When imaginative play begins, young children cannot yet accommodate another person. They have neither the language nor the social skill yet to participate in the give and take of interaction. By the middle years, as children take on a role, they are exploring how others feel and act. This is the bedrock of empathy and tolerance.

Play and Home Schooling

Home schooling through imaginative play provides lessons in the entire range of communication skills as children not only create dialogue, but also use language to negotiate, give instructions and resolve conflicts. Depending upon the theme and the age of the child, the home schooling lessons of imaginative play will include the skills basic to science and technology as well as mathematics. Watch the youngest children building a track for their cars or older children constructing a working model of an amusement ride. Because the children have a real purpose for learning these skills this is lasting learning, nor mere memorization of facts and formulas.

In order to make home schooling through imaginative play easy, adults should be facilitators not directors. All they need to do is provide some place to play and things to play with. Forget the sterile battery-operated toys sold at Christmas. What young players need are open-ended materials such as empty boxes, remnants of fabric, generic articles of clothing like tee shirt. Don’t waste money on premade costumes. A remnant of fabric, an old tablecloth or a curtain can be a cape, a tent or any thing the child needs it to be.

Ideas To Try

If older children have not had the advantage of imaginative play or what I call independent inquiry, providing a challenge is an effective way of getting self-directed play going. Recently a friend told me about her two granddaughters being given the challenge to create a fort that they would live in for twenty-four hours. The only time-out would be to go to the bathroom or to get food.

Think of the problem solving:

  • What household items would be needed? (blankets, pillows, dishes, light source…)
  • What would they need to occupy their time? (board games, books…
  • What clothing might they need?

Create a newspaper. This is a great way of improving writing and research skills. This is a good activity if there is only one child in the house. Spend time talking about the different sections – sports, news, arts and entertainment and so on.

As I watched my neighbor’s children playing with a new puppy I was thinking how much fun it would be for them to create a picture book chronicling this puppy’s early years. It could be taken to the publishing stage through Shutterfly, or some similar program.

Construction, whether with commercial material like lego, or with found materials such as scraps of wood and containers, offers limitless opportunities for using science and math skills. The substance of imaginative play is as limitless as the learning.

Cautionary note:

Don’t step in unnecessarily to settle a dispute or suggest how they should play. This kind of intervention robs the child of valuable learning.

For an in-depth understanding of children’s play and learning my book Play Works: Helping Children Learn Through Play. Susanne T. Eden. Authorhouse: 2008 is available on Amazon.


Play makes home schooling easy. Through pay children learn that which no one could teach them.

Susanne Eden


  1. Maxime Tam on May 5, 2020 at 12:53 am

    Your blog is wonderful! Thank you for sharing your wisdom — it’s an absolute delight to read and is much needed during these trying times.

    • Susanne Eden on May 25, 2020 at 2:52 pm

      Hi Maxime,
      sorry to take so long to respond. I appreciate your kind words. If you wish to receive notice of up coming posts please provide me with an email address.
      Many thanks

  2. Martin Facchini on May 5, 2020 at 12:47 pm

    Hey, i know that picture. 😉
    And what is this word “children” that you keep speaking of? 🤔 😄

    Timely (and timeless) post for today’s challenges that parents are facing. 👍

  3. Marie Perrier on May 5, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    Your understanding of child development and the natural inherent place of play within it is powerful. I’m hearing how very frustrated many parents are with recent online learning and the tensions it is creating in families. Your blog reminds me of a little boy named Charlie and his wonderful mother who provides the time, space and found materials through which his incredible learning happens naturally and joyfully.

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