A Guest Post
By Holly Gilbert, Content Specialist for Playworld
It’s hardly a surprise to anyone that children love to play. There’s a reason every kid longs for recess, after all. Fortunately, the benefits of play-based learning have long been touted in the educational sphere. Play allows children to explore new concepts, exercise their curiosity and creativity, and learn to interact with each other in an unstructured environment.
Finding the right balance of play and structure can sometimes be challenging, however. Teachers need to find ways to encourage kids to take the lead while still gently nudging them in the right direction. The following ideas can help you reinforce concepts you’re introducing in the classroom — and the students won’t even realize they’re learning.
Creating Learning Centers for Play
Organizing the classroom’s physical environment into different learning areas helps students engage in meaningful play. Teachers can set up literacy centers, building areas, little science labs and spaces for dramatic productions.
When doing so, make sure you’re keeping play areas well-organized. A rowdy building section might be disruptive to avid readers, and overcrowded play centers can lead to fighting. Some structure and boundaries can keep these learning centers productive while still making sure they’re fun.
1. Reading-Based Activities
When you’re focusing on specific books and stories, you can bring them to life throughout the classroom. Learning centers can include puppet stages featuring characters from your student’s favorite book or letter-writing to protagonists. Children can practice new vocabulary and language skills by applying literacy-based lessons to their playtime activities.
2. Math-Based Activities
Math allows for a wealth of options when it comes to structured play. Basic math concepts like addition and subtraction can be practiced with counters, but they can also be connected to real-world applications with a make-believe store, plastic kitchen with measuring cups, or game table.
3. Social Studies Activities
Learning to form a community and interact with the wider world is easily reinforced with play. Students can focus on government, commerce and towns with some learning centers that allow them to practice getting involved in these structures. Maybe children can explore maps at a mini travel agency, dress up in period wear or build cities out of blocks.
4. Science Activities
Science and play share a major similarity: they’re both cause-and-effect activities. Science activities help children understand the importance of asking “why,” even if they’re not quite prepared for the answer. Teachers can encourage this curiosity by setting up stations where students can explore sounds, touches, and nature. Creative ideas may include a classroom garden or a mystery box with different textures inside.
The Wonder of Play in the Classroom
There are a million and one ways for teachers to encourage play-based learning, and the above only touch on some broader ideas. The important takeaway is to be strategic about blending curriculum concepts with free-time activities.
When children engage with learning through play, they’re not just taking in information. They’re also developing emotionally, socially, and physically by practicing vocabulary, social skills, and fine motor movements. Let them take the lead, and they’ll be engaged in the classroom even without the recess bell.