The last few weeks I've spent a lot of time working with kids in kindergarten classrooms. Since so many of the kids have never been in school before, the teachers are doing a lot of slightly-structured free play. There's not too much direct instruction yet as kids get use to the manipulatives and routines of the classroom.
Everyday I love how much I'm able to do with the kids during free play. You don't need a strict lecture to teach colors, counting, or vocabulary. If the daily routines stay like they are I would still be able to meet each kid's needs by joining them in play and directing their attention to the 'academic' needs through their own interests. It makes me a believer in Montessori pre-schools. (Or in universal pre-school programs)
Of course, in the classrooms I'm working with I'm the 3rd teacher and I don't have to worry about the other children. I'm only focused on 5 kids at the most at one time, which makes it easy to teach numbers through playing with blocks.
The whole concept of learning through play fascinates me. How far can you take it? At what age is it no longer appropriate?
I know I learned a lot about baseball rules through playing Mario baseball on GameCube. I keep hoping they'll come up with a football version so I might actually start to understand the game. So maybe we all learn best through play...