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Play-Based Learning: Kids Love it and Teachers Deserve it!

 //  May 16, 2019

Play-Based Learning: Kids Love it and Teachers Deserve it!

Shelly Schaub is a contributing author to Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

Most educators and parents would likely agree that play is essential for social-emotional growth and that young children learn through play. Infants explore the world through unoccupied play with their feet, hands, and anything else they can put in their mouths. Toddlers play alone with toys, watch others play, and observe the ‘rules’ of interacting with others. Preschool children engage in play that involves other children but the play is not necessarily coordinated. Once a child enters kindergarten, the stage is set for children to engage in play that is guided by rules, goals, and yes, learning standards!  

If we know that children learn through play, then kindergarten and first grade classrooms should include elements of play that are guided by the teacher. These play-based approaches to learning encourage young children to take initiative, learn persistence, engage in creativity, and develop flexible thinking. According to Siegler and Alibali (2005), “Flexible thinking supports a student’s ability to tackle challenging tasks.”

If you want classrooms in your district to be a place where all students can engage and contribute; learn to work and play together; enjoy learning with and from each other; and develop flexible thinking and confidence, begin with these simple tips:

  1. Explore state standards to find evidence of play-based expectations.
  2. Share Read great literature with your students and let them fall in love with the characters, story, settings, etc.!
  3. Incorporate these stories into play-based, open-ended centers such as art, drama, and building centers. The best centers have opportunities for choice, are well organized, and are introduced through strong modelling.
  4. Use materials and items that offer opportunities for creativity such as construction paper, butcher paper, markers, crayons, water colors, paint, craft clay, blocks, etc.
  5. Go beyond copying worksheets for students to color! Worksheets often limit creativity, flexible thinking, and problem-solving. It will be important for teachers to guide their students with how to use the materials provided. Then just watch the creativity and learning begin!

For example, the Ohio Department of Education outlines a continuum for Innovation and Invention in the Creative Strand of the Standards for Early Learning and Development:

Examine how I’ve used these standards to design teacher-guided, play-based center activities that are connected to quality children’s literature:

Kindergarten Art Center

  • Sample Book: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.
  • Objects & Materials: Crayons, markers, construction paper, glue, etc.
  • Creativity & Flexible Thinking: Choose an animal from the text. Make that animal with the available supplies. Design other animals that could be included in an innovative version of the text.
  • Social Play: Retell the story using the animals that were created.

First Grade Art Center

  • Sample Book: The Three Pigs by David Wiesner
  • Objects & Materials: Crayons, markers, construction paper, glue, paint, boxes, craft clay, popsicle sticks, etc.
  • Creativity & Flexible Thinking: Choose a setting from the text. Choose a character from the text. Create your choices by using the materials provided.
  • Social Play: Retell the story with your small group using the props created.

The Ohio Department of Education outlines a continuum for Creating, Producing/Performing, and Responding/Reflecting in the Drama/Theatre Strand of the Fine Arts Standards:

Examine how I’ve used these standards to design teacher-guided, play-based center activities that are connected to quality children’s literature:

Kindergarten Drama Center

  • Sample Book: The Little Red Hen by Jerry Pinkney
  • Creating: Listen to a recording of the story or read aloud by the teacher. Talk about the story with peers. Gather or make props to represent setting, characters, and items in the story.
  • Producing/Performing: Retell story by using props in coordination with a small group of students at the center.
  • Responding/Reflecting: Share a portion of the retelling and the props used with classmates at the conclusion of center time.

 First Grade Drama Center

  • Sample Book: Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens
  • Creating: Sketch or draw the important scenes of the story with a small group. Gather or make props to represent characters, place, time, and major events in the story.
  • Producing/Performing: Dramatize all major events in the story in sequential order. Express feelings and meaning through expressive interpretations.
  • Responding/Reflecting: Demonstrate confidence and self-direction while performing for the small group. Share a portion of the retelling and the props used with classmates at the conclusion of center time.

Check out more, recent blog posts from Shelly and other Responsive Literacy contributors, here:

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