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When Work Becomes Play: A Glimpse into our Play-Based Early Childhood Program 
CFIS Communications

Walk by preschool and junior kindergarten classrooms at CFIS, and you’ll likely see children happily engaged in play. You’ll often hear laughing and singing and find our youngest students deep in their imaginations exploring. What you may not see are the skills children develop through play, or the intentional education plan of these activities.

Our Early Childhood Education (ECE) program follows an emergent curriculum, soon to be enhanced by the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, with learning activities that put our students' interests at the forefront, making them more engaged and ready to learn.

We ensure children are given agency in their learning by providing time for free play to let their imaginations and passions lead the way. The interests we observe during this time, along with the needs of individual children, are used to plan classroom centres, special activities, field trips, crafts, and more. 

Want to see what we mean? Here are some real classroom examples of ECE students developing their skills through play at CFIS.

Fine Motor Skills 

By offering a wide variety of materials, our students have the opportunity to develop fine motor skills that help develop coordination of the eyes and small muscles (like the ones in our fingers) in tandem to develop dexterity. Whether a student loves drawing, doing crafts, or sensory play, we ensure that all of our students, based on their interests, have the “tools” they need to develop these skills. Some of their favourite activities are playing with toys like Lite-Brite, using tweezers and droppers, lacing and beads and manipulating play-dough.

Gross Motor Skills

Where fine motor skills look at muscle development for some of the tiniest parts of our bodies, gross motor skills focus on the coordination of our larger muscle groups to achieve big actions, like running, jumping and balance. Our ECE students practice and learn new skills in regular physical education classes and spend time outdoors every day. This planned outdoor time allows our students to use their muscles every day to practice and get stronger every day by climbing on the playground, going for a walk in the forest or running in the field.

Language Development

At CFIS, our curriculum is taught entirely in French. Children learn quickly as their brains create new neural pathways in our immersive classrooms. We know that the more a language is integrated into daily vocabulary, the easier it is for them to grasp all the nuances of French as a new language. Our educators ensure circle time activities and games, like singing songs and reading stories in French, enrich their vocabulary and support our students’ understanding of the language to quickly become bilingual.

Social Skills 

In early childhood, children need support to consider the feelings and perspectives of others. Our emergent curriculum and daily play provide excellent opportunities for children to practice sharing, taking turns, listening to others' ideas, cooperating, and communicating with their peers to resolve conflicts. 

Intellectual Development

Young children are developing their cognitive thinking skills all the time. Through intentional play time, our students develop situational awareness, spatial reasoning, problem-solving and decision-making skills and practice giving sustained attention. While much of this happens naturally within our classrooms, our educators plan additional activities to further strengthen students’ intellectual development. For example, in a science experiment, educators will ask students to observe, make hypotheses and ask open-ended questions. All of this challenges them to extend and clearly communicate their thinking, all in French. 

Early Numeracy

Math becomes fun in our ECE classrooms. One of the most fun ways to learn about mathematical concepts is by playing, like in our sand and water tables. Here, students can see what happens when they transfer material from one size container to another and begin to understand volume, measurement, and density. A variety of numeracy games and entertaining classroom activities, like making playdough, require students to measure and count. 

Early Literacy 

A love for literacy often starts at home with story time and continues on in our ECE classrooms with early literacy tools that introduce pre-literacy concepts through activities and play. One of our students' favourites is learning to make ‘M. Mat’. M. Mat is made up of the same shapes that are used to form every letter of the alphabet - students use these shapes to build their own version of M. Mat.  This initial introduction to these shapes is a great, age-appropriate stepping stone for children to begin to learn how to form letters.  


Piquing their interest with colourful paper, markers and glitter, our students have a wide variety of crafting materials available in every ECE classroom that allow them to explore and express themselves. By focusing on the process of creating art rather than the final product, our educators encourage our students to express themselves freely, make their own choices, and know that there is no ‘right or wrong way’ to be creative. Beyond craft activities, children are given the freedom to express themselves in every area of the classroom and outdoors as they create with blocks, make up games and participate in pretend play. 

International Mindedness

At CFIS, the concept of being a global citizen starts with our youngest students. Starting in preschool and through grade 5, our educators infuse the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme into the curriculum and allow our students to explore the world outside of their classrooms. This begins in ECE when we introduce students to global perspectives through age-appropriate activities like stories, music and holiday celebrations from various cultures. Our goal as an IB world school is to graduate students who are responsible global citizens who care for the world around them.  

Developing all of these skills through play and exploration is the main focus for our ECE educators. If you spend any time with our Principal of Early Childhood Education, Mme Amy Murray, it is likely you will hear her say, “The best thing a CFIS child can say when they go home at the end of the day and are asked “What did you do today?”, is for them to answer, “We just played.” This response tells us that our students are enjoying their time each day in our classrooms while soaking up all the benefits of the immersive language and emergent curriculum in our early childhood classrooms.

Learn more about the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme.