By Susan Sholar

How many times have you been in a classroom and witnessed children playing?  Have you ever walked in and thought, “Is there any method to this madness?”  As early childhood educators we schedule open ended play or free play periodically throughout the day.  This is a time when preschool children are able to choose their activity, center or learning tote and play.  What you might not know is this “playtime” has a purpose.   Teachers design classroom environments, sensory totes, and learning centers with a particular purpose behind each one (a learning objective).  It is deliberate, intentional and strategic.  Each center and learning tote is designed to enhance specific skills; and materials are stocked and rotated to support developmental milestones.  So in answer to the question above, there is definitely a method to the madness in a quality preschool class.  When some might say, “Wow, how do you keep up with all of this?” the teachers smile because they know through play they are teaching children about the world around them while meeting learning objectives.


The Sunshine Academy uses the Montana Early Standards (MELS) as a guide when arranging and stocking learning environments.  Each center and tote supports learning through play in the core domains of:  emotional and social, physical, communication, and cognition developments. 

EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT – developing self-awareness and self-control, staying on task, self-expression

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT – forming relationships in the classroom with other children and adults

PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT- children to use their bodies with increasing purpose, skill, and control

  • Fine Motor Skills—small muscle strength, coordination
  • Gross Motor Skills—large muscle strength, coordination
  • Sensorimotor—explore environment, develop skills through sight, smell, touch, taste, sound

COMMUNICATION DEVELOPMENT – exchanging information through a common system of signs, gestures, symbols, and behaviors

  • Language Development—emerging ability of children to communicate with others to build relationships, share meaning, and express needs
  • Literacy—develops as children become aware of the relationship between the written and spoken word

COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT – Building of concept knowledge and thinking skills


WOW!  I bet you never imagined so much conscious thought went into designing quality learning environments which provide ample opportunities for play. With that being said, I would like to introduce you to The Sunshine Academy’s official 2020 theme (method to our madness) …PLAY WITH A PURPOSE!  Stay tuned for updates throughout the year. 

For further detailed explanations and supports you can access The Montana Early Learning Standards http://www.mtecp.org/pdfs/Montana%20Early%20Learning%20Standards.pdf.