Conceptual Play

Play presents opportunities for young children to learn while interacting with others and the environment. When children interact with peers, a social environment emerges in which they support one another and apply cultural tools to the learning experience (Loizou & Loizou, 2022). The abilities to observe and discover enable children to learn concepts, practice reasoning, and take part in inquiry (Desouza, 2017). However, play cannot contribute to the success of preschool programs if educators fail to spot the connection between it and the learning process.

For instance, a child exercising power of imagination may use a block to represent a car or a stick as a ride-on horse (Desouza, 2017) but this focus on meaning alone is inadequate in a learning context. A connection must be set between object and meaning to aid the development of the child’s imagination in early childhood. Guiding children should not be a difficult task as they can utilise the narrative mode to organise personal memories and, at the same time, and comprehend past and future occurrences (Hao, 2017). By the time children join preschool, they can narrate personal experiences, create stories and act through play to express ideas and life experiences.

Effective Strategies for implementing Conceptual Play in Preschool

Vygotsky’s cultural-historic theory argues that an adult’s presence in play is essential and the involved social interactions should be harmonious (Desouza, 2017). This means that teachers should take up the role of facilitating play. Cultural-historical activity theory emphasises involvement of teachers in children’s play to guide the making of rules and eliminate boundaries to imagination (Loizou & Loizou, 2022). Educators should as well adopt play-based programs to nurture conceptual thinking in children, during play.

Play-based programs are founded on imagination, and they give equal importance both play and learning. Piaget believed that a child’s cognitive development determines their engagement in play, and play provides the context where understanding, experiences, and knowledge merge (Desouza, 2017). Again, mediation removes hindrances to imagination so children can freely explore their cultural and historical worlds. Vygotsky argued that higher levels of cognition emerge from imagination, meaning that play-based curriculum is effective if it promotes leaning and development of children (Desouza, 2017).

When imagination is a priority, children develop higher competence in subject areas that demand cognitive abilities such as literacy, numeracy, and science (Desouza, 2017). Vygotsky also explained that conceptually connecting imagination and reality helps children to assign new meaning to objects, emulate roles in the society, and comply with the rules associated with the imaginary roles (Desouza, 2017).

Although play-based programs are essential, implementing them effectively careful consideration of many factors. Generally, educators must link their knowledge of play and development to the correct time of learning (Edwards, 2010).In other words, an educator should fully understand the connection within his or her social, creative, and life work in pedagogics to remain an active society participant now and in the future.

The reason is that language and conceptual tools undergo changes with time due to social and cultural factors (Edwards, 2010). This necessitates changes in the way children learn and may involve incorporation of the latest digital technologies to engage the play types that promote social and cultural understanding.

The role of scaffolding in this context is debatable. Early childhood educators should dedicate time to discover what every child knows, identify the appropriate content to teach, and implement the correct teaching strategies (Desouza, 2017). As a mediators, the teacher should employ cultural tools scaffold and endorse elements of creativity (Loizou & Loizou, 2022). The teacher should set the instructions for every play and hand them to children for the purpose of supporting and enhancing experiences from creative play.

In this regard, 5E (Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, and Evaluation) model is worth considering. 5E framework assumes that children have their own ideas about the world and can test new ideas against what they already identify to be real (Desouza, 2017). The model fits well with play-based program because it encourages learning in social settings . It also involves collaboration, cooperation, and co-construction of concepts for learning purposes.  

Educators should also use story-acting and story-telling. Play through story acting develops the imaginative zone, creating extensive chances of role representations that children can test to understand the different rules that govern behaviours or relations (Hao, 2017). Play-world is pedagogically relevant as it enables exploration of role playing, characters of play engagement, relations between reality and fantasy, challenges associated with interactions, and allows for collaborative story telling (Hao, 2017).

Story-acting elaborates the thinking process of a child, and narrative is a vital part of conceptual thinking. Cultural-historical theory perceives narrative as a psychological factor that unifies and formalises human knowledge and thoughts into thought units (Hao, 2017). That is, as children play, they link their feeling, motives and thoughts to the stories. As a result, they change the story-world into one of their imagination and gain the ability to form their own stories. The final story reveals the real behaviours of the children in combination with characters in the stories that educators had shown them.


In fact, deep conceptual play enhances humans’ cognitive abilities and enables them to reach the, otherwise, inaccessible realities (Palenicik, 2010). For this to happen, however, educators must establish a learning context in which each child’s ideas and perspectives are appreciated.

The ability of children to understand concepts in mathematics or science, for instance, lies in the teacher’s efforts to encourage them to develop a form of vision and philosophical abstract notions that help young children to see objects more clearly. Palenicik (2010) emphasises that people move with ease in good light and enlightenment comes from light of reason.

Generally, the ability to navigate better due to good light and knowledge resulting from light of reason are essential for the formation of a clear picture of reality.