In the early childhood field, the debate over play vs. learning is ever-present. There are those who feel strongly that children should be engaged in formal, teacher-led learning activities. Children need to learn their colors, shapes, numbers and abc's and the earlier we introduce them the better they will learn. Then there is the opposing view that the early childhood years should be all about play. Children need unstructured play to explore and teachers should give them ample space and time to do so.
Many outsiders walking in on this activity would likely think the children were 'just playing.' But, the children were learning valuable skills as they sustained this activity. They had to negotiate with each other to decide which role they would play, what color scarf or blanket they could have or who would rub their back. They practiced conversation skills and turn taking. They learned about spatial relationships, shape and size as they figured out which blankets covered them up. They solved problems when they ran out of blankets and found scarves to substitute. They practiced naming colors and using words for different sizes, increasing their vocabulary. They practiced focusing on the same activity for an extended period of time. Toddlers can sustain an activity for extended periods when they are interested and not interrupted.
They were so engaged in this activity that we didn't interrupt even though it was past their normal lunch time. We waited for them to us and let us know they were wither hungry or finished with the game. We could have interrupted them in order to stay on our regular schedule and manage all the routine care activities for the day. But if we had, they would have missed out on so much. None of this was planned, beyond providing the materials and setting the interest areas up in an inviting way, and look at all the learning that happened.