Learning Through Play at Bright Horizons

How do children learn and grow through play? What is the importance of play?

Play nurtures relationships with oneself and others. When children play, they are developing skills in all areas: cognitive, physical, communication, and social/emotional. They practice and reinforce these skills in a way that can’t be achieved through worksheets or screen time.


preschool boy climbing in a playground

Play relieves stress and increases happiness. It builds feelings of empathy, creativity, and collaboration. It supports the growth of sturdiness and grit. When children are deprived of opportunities for play, their development can be significantly impaired. Play is so important that the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights has declared it a fundamental right of every child. Play is not frivolous. It is not something to do after the “real work” is done. Play is the real work of childhood. Through it, children have their best chance for becoming whole, happy adults.

The Bright Horizons Approach to Play

At Bright Horizons®, we promise an integrated curriculum that offers an emergent, inquiry-based approach to learning. This seems like a tall order, but our World at Their Fingertips® curriculum delivers on those promises through a thoughtful combination of project work, engaging experiences, and play. Play is at the heart of our approach and philosophy. We believe that it is the primary vehicle for optimal growth in childhood. Through play, we can: 

(From the Bright Horizons Educator’s Promise)

Frequently Asked Questions About Learning and Play

How does the Bright Horizons curriculum incorporate play?


At Bright Horizons, we prioritize the joy of childhood and make sure it is predominant in each classroom. We celebrate, elevate, and prioritize play in all its forms in the following ways:

  • We offer a variety of engaging materials to provoke play and build a flexible schedule that allows ample time for play
  • We observe the children. We enter their play respectfully, following their lead when possible. We think outside the box, offering new materials as needed. 
  • We model play for younger children — or for children who struggle to play.
  • We ask open-ended questions and statements that provoke children’s thinking, e.g., “I wonder what would happen if…” or “What could we use this for?”  
  • We watch for and guide children through frustration and conflict. We teach children skills, such as how to use materials and how to ask for a turn or share a toy. 
  • We honor and allow mess, knowing it is part of the process. We occasionally stop to gather materials quietly behind the scenes as needed, not in an effort to control but to maintain an engaging, user-friendly environment. 
  • We create flexible schedules and routines, allowing changes to accommodate play. 
  • We use playful experiences, gentle humor, and positive communication to create joyful classroom experiences for children, families, and teachers.

What is imaginative play?

Imaginative lay, or pretend play, can occur during all the other types of play; it is what most of us think of when we use the word “play.” During imaginative play, children try out new ideas or take on different personas. They might assign roles and make objects into props. When children engage in rich pretend play, they are creating and imagining in the moment. They develop language, resolve conflict, solve problems, work collaboratively, and gain resilience. Imaginative play is a powerful vehicle for working through childhood fears or learning new skills.

Why is play important in childhood development?

We believe that it is the primary vehicle for optimal growth in childhood. The benefits of play in early childhood are countless. When children play, they are very likely collaborating, negotiating, problem-solving, role-playing, experimenting, creating, innovating, and communicating, among other things. Play is for learning. It offers children opportunities to explore and practice concepts, to research and test ideas without worrying about a right or wrong answer, and to learn about others and themselves. Most important, it provides meaningful and integrated experiences that nurture whole-child growth and development.

What are some at-home learning and play activities I can do with my child?

Please visit our World at Home page for hundreds of learning (and playing!) at home ideas. We also have suggestion available for educational toys and books for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.