Video: Ready for School: The power of play

Nanny Stephens knows the power of play.? The former nurse has three kids of her own and has run Nanny's Preschool for two decades.?

Stephens says learning not only can be fun, it must be fun to be effective.

"Keep them excited and engaged and wanting to know more, just wanting it. You can't push them. They have to want it," she said.

They don't always look like they're learning, and that's kind of the point.

"It's just so exciting because it's everywhere for them. You can find it absolutely anywhere if you just kind of put on your thinking cap a little bit and you know, what could I do with this activity we're doing that might be fun for them.? But take it to the next level without them even knowing," said Stephens.

So a singing dog may help them be more caring with animals, and, in turn, with other kids.

Your everyday tea party becomes an early etiquette class.

"Even having the tea party with you, trying to take turns and listen. They were learning how to be cooperative people," said Stephens.

Putting keys on a ring may look like chaos, but, she says, "They have to have amazing musculature and coordination in their hands to be ready to write.? So there are a lot of games we play, things we do specifically that are preparing their little hands."

Jodi Arnold says her 3-year-old son Emmett never realizes he's learning.? To him, he's just playing.

"Indirectly there's an element of challenge. And kind-of stepping outside of what he's comfortable doing. But the entire time he's having fun and he's learning," she said.

Stephens says the best way to help kids learn is to listen. You find out what they want to learn, when they want to learn it.

"You need to listen. Where are they? Because if you get so excited about that tetrahedron and getting them into Harvard, then you can sour them and skip important stepping stones because it all builds on itself," she says.

So washing the car, playing dress up, crooning with Mr. Utley. It's not all fun and games, it's laughs and learning all at the same time.

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