Austin Children's Gardenfree playTeacher Tom

Why we love to play

Morna Harnden’s guest post below beautifully explains the importance of play to early childhood development and learning. Morna directs Austin Children’s Garden, which offers preschool programs as well as homeschool classes in South Austin.


This summer I had the absolute delight of volunteering in Teacher Tom’s classroom at the Woodland Park Cooperative School in Seattle, Washington. Teacher Tom has long been one of my early childhood heroes (he even wears a cape!) through his insightful blog Teacher Tom and various trainings he has led with the Pedagogy of Play conference.

I wish the majority of parents and educators already understood the huge value of a play-based curriculum, but as the co-founder and co-teacher at Austin Children’s Garden (an experiential and play-based learning community), I regularly find myself defending children’s play to adults who are concerned about their child’s education by explaining how and why we learn through play. As Teacher Tom says, “The idea that play is the opposite of learning is just too well embedded in our collective psyche.”

Questions that often come up are:

  • So, what does a “play-based curriculum” even mean?

  • Does that mean the children just play all day with no structure or learning? How will they transition to traditional school?

  • What is my child actually learning when they play?

After spending my childhood attending various Montessori, Steiner, and Democratic schools in the 1970s and 1980s (thanks Mom and Dad!), I have devoted my adult life to understanding early childhood growth and development (birth through age 8) from an integrated and holistic perspective. I am fascinated with how children learn and feel grateful for the calling to co-create the most healthy and joyful learning environment I can with the local community around me, as well as the global community of inspiring educators around the world.

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