Many people do not know what free-play is or why it is important. At little-People’s Montessori we have structured learning as well as a free play time for the children.

What is free play?

On hearing the words “free” and “play”, one may think of an environment that is suited for home rather than for a school.

Progression in play comes about as a result of an understanding of the interests, needs and experiences of the child. Children enter the pre-school environment as already skilled learners, and in play we see the children’s knowledge, skills and attitudes in their progression. In experimental play in the different areas of the classroom, such as the fantasy area, and dramatic play, we see imagination and thinking – they express themselves, explore feelings, language, develop social skills, cooperation, care, consideration and control. They are faced with decisions, they make choices, use mathematical language and develop mathematical concepts and improve motor skills.

Subject areas:

The pre-school environment is divided into different subject related learning areas. We have the emergent reading area. This reading area is a quiet part of the classroom, which is attractive, comfortable and inviting. Children may freely choose a book to their liking and look at the pictures and words and are emerging into reading experiences.

Block play and big constructions are developing imagination, problem solving, fine muscle skills, social and language skills, and creates a sense of relaxation and creativity. This area is rich in large blocks, wooden blocks, Lego pieces and Jenga blocks.

Emergent science and mathematical area.

Through a variety of displayed activities and experiments, the children are learning extensively through playing, observing, experimenting, assessing, socialising, decision making, evaluating and discussing.

Educational game area boasting a wide range of developmental games stimulating perceptual skills, thinking, memory, concentration, association, abstract reasoning, number concepts, shapes, colour recognition and grading of colours.

Small construction and fine motor skill area: These activities aid the strengthening of fine muscle skills, tweezes manipulation, threading of beads, pouring water from large to small jugs, small blocks and knobbed puzzles, which are all pre-writing skills.

Art area: This area is occupied by a large range of colouring media, such as oil pastels, colouring pencils, wax crayons (thick and thin), water colour paints, collage materials (beans, seeds, sticks) and cutting. These activities stimulate fine muscle development, free thinking and creativity, they are also therapeutic and relaxing.

The fantasy area as mentioned previously involves role playing and language enrichment.

All the areas in the classroom are integrated and although they are separately arranged they are all connected and learning in a holistic sense is taking place on a daily basis.

I invite you to come and observe the “free-play” of my Grade-Rs. I will act as your tour guide describing to you the thinking and planning that has taken place to enable the children to benefit from each and every activity that has been set out in this environment. I assure you, it is not just play, there is much more to the story.

Herewith are the 10 common principles of early year’s education by Tina Bruce (1987):

  1. The best way to prepare children for their adult life is to give them what they need as children.
  2. Children are whole people who have feelings, ideas and relationships with others, and who need to be physically, mentally, morally and spiritually healthy.
  3. Subjects such as mathematics and art cannot be separated; young children learn in an integrated way and not in neat, tidy compartments.
  4. Children learn best when they are given appropriate responsibility, allowed to make errors, decisions and choices, and respected as autonomous learners.
  5. Self-discipline is emphasised. Indeed, this is the only kind of discipline worth having. Reward systems are very short-term and do not work in the long-term. Children need their efforts to be valued.
  6. There are times when children are especially able to learn particular things.
  7. What children can do (rather that what they cannot do) is the starting point of a child’s education.
  8. Imagination, creativity and all kinds of symbolic behaviour (reading, writing, drawing, dancing, music, mathematical numbers, algebra, role play and talking) develop and emerge when conditions are favourable.
  9. Relationships with other people (both adults and children) are of central importance in a child’s life.
  10. Quality education is about three things: the child, the context in which learning takes place, and the knowledge and understanding which the child develops and learns.


  • Davin, R. (2013). Handbook for Grade-R teaching. Pearson. Cape Town. South Africa.
  • Bruce, T. (1987). Early childhood education. Hodder & Stoughton Educational. London.