How to Make Time for Play in Your Busy Classroom


Play is so important for building brains, but with all the things that need to be taught, how do we make time for play in our classrooms? While it can be tricky, here are 5 ways you can fit play into your day:

1. Integrate

Need to teach the children about counting and cardinality? CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4 Float plastic lids on a tub of water, have the children pretend they are boats, and then count and record how many pennies it takes to sink the boat. Need to teach the children about question words like who, what, when, why or how? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.K.1.d Have the children build something and then pretend they are at a museum where they can wander around admiring each others creations while asking questions. Play is such a powerful tool for helping children understand and practice concepts that by using it as a method of teaching we are increasing the value of each lesson and guaranteeing that the concepts we are teaching will stick with our students.

2. Start The Day With Play

There are always things that need to be done as children are arriving at school. Things need to be put away, attendance needs to be taken, and I always seem to find that at least one thing I need for the first lesson has gone missing. Sometimes it can be hard to come up with an activity to start the day with that allows for these last minute housekeeping items to be taken care of; so why not start the day with a little free play? If children know they will have time to play they will be excited to come to school each day, the teacher will have time to organize, and everyone will have their wiggles out and be ready for learning to begin when play time is over.

3. Reward With Play

Instead of rewarding students with prizes or candy, why not reward the class with some extra play time for good behavior? The chance to explore the classroom, revisit favorite activities, and engage with their classmates in an unstructured way will be exciting to any class, and motivate them to behave far more than a chance for a token or a treat.

4. Have Play Time on Inside Recess Days

Does your district have inside recess days? Mine does and they used to be the worst! What do you do when you suddenly loose recess time? I realized that inside recess days were a great opportunity for free classroom play. On inside recess days everything in our classroom that the children have learned how to use becomes available. Want to put on a puppet show? Sure! Want to make an art project? Sure! Want to play the math game we played yesterday again? Sure! As long as everyone agrees to follow our rules of classroom care and clean up when we are done then everything is up for grabs. Now I have the best inside recess days (and sometimes it's tempting to let our inside recess go a little overtime).

5. Use Play to Facilitate Guided Reading

One of my favorite ways to use play in the classroom is as a vehicle to allow me the one on one time I need for guided reading, guided writing, and individual instruction. I set up stations where the children can play while I am working in small groups. Some children might be acting out a story we've read in the dramatic play area CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.K.2, others might be building with blocks and comparing how tall they are CCSS.Math.Content.K.MD.A.2, and still others might be playing a phonemic awareness game CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.2. I have found that the more playful the activities are that I ask children to perform independently, the more likely they are to be engaged and appropriate, and the more learning they will gain while I am busy with others.

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