In New Teach Plus Brief, Illinois Early Childhood Educators Bring Play-based Learning to the Forefront

In New Teach Plus Brief, Illinois Early Childhood Educators Bring Play-based Learning to the Forefront

Teachers Provide Recommendations to Improve Acceptance, Implementation of Play-Based Learning Statewide

March 10, 2022—Research shows that play-based learning in kindergarten impacts children positively and supports their social, emotional, and academic growth. In their new brief, Implementing Play-Based Learning Across Illinois Kindergarten Classrooms: Recommendations from Teach Plus Early Childhood Fellows, Teach Plus teacher leaders highlight the factors that allow for play-based learning in the classroom and provide recommendations for policymakers to help improve its implementation across the state. In the brief, teachers also look at the impact and benefits of play-based learning for kindergarten students in Illinois and examine the barriers to incorporating it across classrooms.

“When children learn through play, they develop and grow significantly,” said Sinthu Ramalingam, Teach Plus Illinois Early Childhood Policy Manager. “Play is the strongest tool in a classroom, and while Illinois has required the use of KIDS and play-based observation of kindergarten students since 2017, there are wide disparities in how play is accepted and implemented across our classrooms, schools, and districts. It is essential that policymakers listen to early childhood educators and support them in implementing play-based learning to benefit all students.”

“Play is such a powerful tool for teaching and learning in early childhood education; it is not a free-for-all for children or break time for teachers in the classroom. Teachers and administrators need to know how to thoughtfully implement play-based learning so that it’s a time for growth and development in young children,” said Teach Plus Senior Policy Fellow Margi Bhansali, an early childhood educator at Beard Elementary in Chicago Public Schools and the report’s lead author.

For the project, Teach Plus teacher leaders interviewed district and school administrators as well as kindergarten teachers working in four districts that have implemented play-based learning. The interview and focus group questions focused on the districts’ play-based learning protocols, how the districts transitioned toward play-based learning, how it has been implemented, and any changes districts have seen in student outcomes since the implementation of play-based learning in kindergarten programs.


  1. The implementation of play varies across classrooms, schools, and districts.
  2. Barriers to implementing play-based learning include teacher turnover, unsustained professional development, and the lack of appropriate play materials.
  3. When implemented, play-based learning has a variety of positive outcomes for kindergarten students.

The teachers’ recommendations are:

  1. Standardize the definition of play to improve consistency in the implementation of play-based learning.
  2. Require play-based learning across all kindergarten classrooms in Illinois.
  3. Ensure administrators are trained in play-based learning as part of their licensure process.
  4. Ensure kindergarten teachers are trained in play-based learning as a part of their ongoing professional development.
  5. Invest in play materials to help teachers implement play-based learning with fidelity.

“The teachers are clear: creating a standard definition of play-based learning and setting requirements for play in kindergarten’s daily schedules is essential,” said Ms. Ramalingam. “Only then will the kingerteners across our state be able to fully enjoy the many benefits of play-based learning.”

About Teach Plus
The mission of Teach Plus is to empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that affect their students’ success. Since 2009, Teach Plus has developed thousands of teacher leaders across the country to exercise their leadership in shaping education policy and improving teaching and learning, to create an education system driven by access and excellence for all.


Contact: Anya Grottel-Brown,, 917-902-5902