Learning Naturally Through Conversation and Play

Guest Post by Becky of This Reading Mama

As you put an ABC coloring sheet in front of your preschooler, (s)he pushes it away and declares, “I don’t want to do this!” It can be extremely frustrating and perhaps embarrassing when your own child doesn’t desire to learn; especially when Suzie just announced at playgroup that her two year old knows all his colors, shapes, letters, and can count to 20!

Just like you can’t make your baby sleep, eat, or poop, you can’t force your child to learn. Trying to do so may land you on a battlefield against your own preschooler. It’s not that you want your child to be at a 2nd grade reading level in Kindergarten. You just want him/her to desire to learn. The Sneaky Chef has tricks for getting kids to eat healthy, so maybe (just maybe) you can sneak in some learning…through natural conversation and simple play. This is how both my boys learned their basic preschool skills, and my little girl is well on her way.

While your child may be turned off to anything that appears educational in nature, I haven’t met a child uninterested in natural conversation and play. Take, for instance, these wooden letter blocks: through natural conversation while playing, many concepts can be introduced and modeled.

Listen In:

“I’m going to build a tall tower. But I need you to help me get some of the blocks. Can you hand me that green letter B block over there? (I’m also pointing to it.)  It’s beside the blue Letter L block. Let’s see how many cubes high I can go before my tower falls over.” (Count as you build.)  As it falls, say, “Oh, I think I stacked that Letter G cube too far over and it fell down. Hey, do you think you can build a tower that’s taller than mine?”

In this conversation, these concepts have been modeled:

Print Awareness Vocabulary: “letter”

Letters: “B” “G” & “L”

Colors: “green” and “blue”

Positional words: “beside”

Rote Counting & One-to-One Correspondence: counting as you built

3D shapes: “cube”

Comparatives: “taller”

Cause & Effect: “I stacked that letter G cube too far over and it fell down”

Fine Motor: stacking the blocks

Notice that this conversation is not riveted with questions: What color is this? What letter? How many? What shape?—it flows naturally. These conversations can take place anywhere and can start at any age. And they work best if they stem from the child’s interests. If building towers isn’t your child’s cup of tea, pick what is. The goal is making learning meaningful to the child while modeling those basic preschool skills in a natural manner.

So, if your child doesn’t want to color that ABC sheet, it’s okay! Let him (or her) play and explore. Do it together and you may just be amazed at the things (s)he will learn naturally…without even knowing it!


Becky is a former Elementary school teacher/private reading tutor who became a homeschooling mama of three beautiful blessings (ages 6, 3, & 18 months, with one more on the way!)  She blogs about their homeschooling journey atwww.thisreadingmama.com.


  1. I love it! This is exactly how our “homeschool” (my kids are 2 and 5) looks. It took me awhile to figure out why my 5 year old wouldn’t touch those little preschool workbooks. They’re BORING! We use games, art, outdoor play, hands-on activities and the concept of living books and living math to teach everything now. He is happy, inquisitive and enjoys doing our “school” work because it is FUN for him!

  2. I’ll never forget the day I was teaching Kindergarten and my kids were actively enchanged in center time and probably not the quietest room in a “Pod style” teaching environment(not fun at all) and a 5th grade teacher came into my room from the hallway. I was afraid we’d been making too much noise and she had come to say something. However I was very wrong… she had the kindest words for my students . She just had to come in and comment on the amazing and mature vocabulary she was overhearing from our kitchen center and Manipulate area while her students were at the library. You know it’s good when a 5th grade teacher is impressed :) Learning is PLAY!

    1. Kim, loved this story you shared. I was scared for a second the 5th grade teacher was going to say something to make me cringe, but whew…high five to you both!

  3. Becky, This post needs to go home with all parents when they bring their first babies from the hospital;) Once we understand this philosophy, it’s amazing all the little ways we can teach our children!

  4. Thank you so much for this! My daughter is almost four and she abhors any worksheet I try to get her to do. She has excellent drawing skills for her age but try to get her to draw an “A” and she gets very resistant and upset. After reading this article I’ve decided that I will try “paint by number” art with her and maybe even make up our own “paint by letter” since she loves to paint and color! She’s starting phonics but really only does it to receive praise from me. I know she’s going to be a great reader, but she’s not willing to let me teach her yet. I think I’m getting ahead of her a little and after reading this article I see that she’s getting lots of learning every day. I look forward to teaching reading with play, too! Thanks for lifting my spirits. :)

  5. This concept really works! I have 2 preschoolers (ages 3 & 4), and one of their favorite alphabet games “they taught me” was to put their magnetic alphabetic letters on the fridge. Then they’d run into the living room where I was and say they want to spell a letter (ie. dog). We will sound out each letter, and once they guess it correctly, they will run into the kitchen to get the letter and run back and put it on the coffee table. We will continue with each letter until the word is spelled out. They will play this game for an hour until I get tired!

    It is especially good for my 4 yr old boy, who has so much energy, and doesn’t like to sit still for long. He’s learning letters and sounds, while he’s running around “playing”. Wears me out just watching him, haha.

  6. This is a great article! Sometimes I feel like my 4-year old out there who doesn’t want to sit quietly go over the alphabet! We’ve been using rice for him to “write” his letters in and he quickly tires of it. Last night we were making brownies though and he “drew” a “Q” in the dough with the spatula while he was helping me stir. He drew some other letters that he knew too and it turned into a fun experience.

  7. I love this! Sometimes when I read blogs about all the fun educational activities you can do with your kids I feel bad that I’m not doing as much and wonder how to fit in more. But just play is fun and teaches kids so many things!

  8. This is my parenting philosophy! Granted my daughter is almost 2-1/2, but I figure she’ll learn when she’s ready. Last year my mom would try to teach my daughter words, etc, but she wasn’t into it (the situation is also a little complicated because we’re raising her bilingually.) My mom wanted my daughter to be “up to par” with her cousins, my nephew (1 year older) and my niece (3 months younger), but that’s not my parenting philosophy (that’s my sister-in-law’s). Once my mom understood that, she appreciated the natural learning environment I am creating for her. Love this post!

  9. Great post !

    I have always been a firm believer that young children learn best in their day to day play with parents and siblings, rather than in a formal preschool setting, or with “traditional tools” such as workbooks or flash cards.

    My children have all been early talkers and were able to recognize their numbers, letters, colors, etc. at a very young age. I am adament that they had these skills because I made an effort to read to them often, and made sure that I was constantly narrating our day.

    When my oldest son was a baby, we were in the grocery store. As I was choosing some items from the produce section, I was talking to my son. “We should get some bananas. We like bananas, don’t we ? Do you see the yellow bananas ? How many bananas should we get ?” I didn’t pay attention to the other people around us, until a man behind me laughed, and said, “I’m pretty sure he’s not going to answer you.” The man was right. But I wasn’t expecting an answer (my son was only 7 months old at the time).

    I didn’t expect my son to suddenly start talking. I knew he wasn’t going to answer me with words. What that man didn’t understand, is that although my son couldn’t verbally “answer” me, he was still absorbing everything that I said to him. He was absorbing everything that was happening in the store. By talking to him, I was helping to increase his vocabulary and allowing him to gain a better understanding of the world around him.

    I think that as parents, one of the most vital (and super-simple) ways to teach our children, is through day to day conversations and interactions. Children are natural learners, and in most cases (whether you realize it or not) parents are natural teachers.

  10. Great post! Play and learn is the way to go! It’s neat to see how much they can learn through playing with very simple toys like blocks or a ball and how much their imagination expands over time! I also found that my son was more interested in the activities I though of for the day if they were set up on his little table or the floor where he could explore it whether it was a toy, craft, book,etc. I’m glad we live in a world where we can easily share ideas like this and learn.

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