Date of Award


Document Type

Non Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Education




Early Childhood Education

Capstone Instructor

Dr. Kelly Sadlovsky

Second Reader

Samantha Schack, M.A.Ed.


whole-child, metacognition, self-regulation, executive function skills, active play


Child-initiated activity in child-centered learning environments benefits the development of the whole child. Current research lends evidence that the early relationships and experiences of a child directly impact learning success (Nitecki, 2017; Fyffe et al., 2022). The indoor and outdoor environment are positioned as places for learning providing freedom and space to support health and well-being (Maynard et al., 2013). Classrooms have largely removed free play to address academic standards and high-stakes testing (Pistrova & Slutsky, 2018). This has been demonstrated by the implementation of scripted curriculum, the removal of toys such as unit blocks that foster creativity and imagination, and the reduced incorporation of pretend play (Pistorova & Slutsky, 2018; Cohen and Emmons, 2017). Self-directed play and everyday experience within the environment have contributed to the development of intrinsic motivation which thereby supports a desire to learn. The studies examined in this paper present active opportunities for free or unstructured play initiated by the child and structured play supported by adults that led to higher-level thinking and reflective dialogue. Results of the research exhibit that support of development of the whole child begins with responsive, attuned adults. In a stimulating environment, meaningful play experiences initiated by the child and centered on interest supported social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development.