You might think that when kids are playing, it is because they are taking a break from work and learning. Would you believe me if I told you that PLAY is the REAL work? You could probably think of so many things that are deemed as “more important” for children to be doing in order to learn. One of my favorite quotes about this topic is by the wonderful late Fred Rogers. He said,
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
I whole-heartedly agree and have spent the last few years of my career honing in on this magic and the impact it has had on my students. I am a huge proponent of what is best for students and what I have learned is that students need to play. They need to move their bodies, manipulate materials with their hands, engage in positive interactions with people, and have fun while learning. So today I’m here to talk to you about the importance of learning through play.
What Drives Learning?
Throughout the years, we have seen the rise of college readiness starting as early as pre-school. In several major stores you can find various workbooks geared toward kids 4 and 5 years old to become “school ready”. They are marketed as if children interacting with tons of worksheets are the determining factor of mastering the skills covered. If you’ve been around here for a while you know I am NOT a fan of worksheets, but instead more interactive and engaging pieces of educational material. Now, I’m not disparaging worksheets entirely; I do believe they are helpful and appropriate at certain times and places during a path to mastery. However, hands on play is what really drives learning in our classroom.
There is a lot of research that supports the importance of learning through play but I’m only going to highlight one that really stuck with me. The study comes from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development:
“Scientists have discovered that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain, unless it is done in play, in which case it only takes 10 to 20 repetitions.”
How powerful is that? You can drill your students into learning something, but it’ll take you about 400 times for them to catch that “a-ha” moment and you to hear that “click”. If you shift that learning into something play based, you only need about 10 to 20 times. Do you know what a time saver that is? Do you know what that can do for a student’s academic performance? Let them play! I promise you, the deeper understanding bells will be ringing! Kids will be mastering what you’re teaching. Again I say, let them play!
Whether it be board games, crafts, puzzles, anything with a competitive component, or simply using their imagination, a child is always learning. We merely have to foster opportunities for them to interact with great material and engage them in rich conversations. Kids thrive on activities including things such as sensory play, imaginative scenarios, and things that challenge their fine and gross motor skills. And the great reliever of play based and hands on learning, especially in a classroom with multiple littles, is that the engagement piece is always there! This means that you have more time to spend in small groups or helping students one-on-one because everyone else is happily engaged and learning.
Incorporating Play In The Classroom
Playing all day with a bunch of kids sounds amazing right? Some might think that’s all we do in our primary classrooms but we know the truth. If our job were only that easy. Obviously, we have standards and benchmarks that our job requires us to get our students to master on top of the other plethora of responsibilities we hold. So how do we make time to play? We turn their lessons into games! We give students choices of fun activities to practice skills! We welcome all the hands-on learning!
If you walk into a classroom and see students playing with magnetic wands, stretching out slinkies, mashing Play Doh with wooden mallets, racing race cars, and pretending to be detectives with magnifying glasses, you might think you took a wrong turn and instead are at a children’s museum. These kids are playing and can’t be learning academic content right? WRONG! What if they were doing all of these fun things, while at the same time mastering crucial reading skills? Well they can be with THIS hands on blending and segmenting bundle that allows kids to do all of those things! It also works wonders on their reading growth and no one is ever mad at that.
What’s a great way to foster imagination in the classroom? Insert a super interesting problem solving challenge. What if you set the stage for your kids to pretend to be locked in a room that they needed to escape. In order to escape, they have to critically think to find clues. Those clues will give them codes to enter into the locks that allow them freedom! But we’re in a classroom. And again- the standards. So how do we do all of that imagining and hunting and solving AND master skills? I’ll tell you- Digital Escape Rooms.
This works no matter what classroom situation you’re in- virtual, hybrid, or in person! Students have a BLAST with this digital escape room searching for clues and unlocking secret codes. They complete activities that review Addition and Subtraction within 20, Word Problems, and Unknown Addends. It can be used with students in small groups, they can do it individually at home or as an independent practice activity, or the entire class can take the plunge together. There is an easy QR Code log on and each activity includes a voice recording should they need help reading. Fun on fun on fun.
The Gift of Games
A little competition never hurt anyone. And who doesn’t love playing games? Board games, bingo, and bump are just some of the fun games we love to play in our class. There are so many different games to play while adding in academic content. Whether it’s a low-prep snowball fight like ones talked about in this post, or some engaging boom cards like these that students can play on a tablet or computer, games serve as an easy way to incorporate fun into our learning.
Board games can be used to cover an array of skills. Laminate a bunch of boards to rotate out, add some dice and play pieces, and you’ve got yourself loads of fun and skill practice! Looking to spread some love? Help students master long vowels with that tricky silent “E” with THESE LOVE-ly board games! How about helping spring come faster by bringing out some garden theme graphing games?
Bingo is a classic game and kids absolutely love it! What better feeling is it sitting in your chair with one more space to fill before being able to leap in the air yelling out BINGO!? I mean come on. It’s a GREAT feeling. And then to easily be able to clear your board and play again is the best part because it’s usually a quick game. Talk about a win-win. This addition bingo resource not only includes bingo, but also some spin and add games, sorts, and other goodies! You can have more bingo fun practicing long vowel teams AND give kids some fine motor skill practice with the clip cards that are included with THIS activity.
Bump is a fun competitive game that can cover many skills in reading and in math. Students start out with a board filled with spots, dice, and colored counters. Each kid gets about 10 counters of their color to try and fill the most spots on the board. If someone lands on a spot that is already taken by someone else, they can bump them off to take the spot while collecting their opponent’s pieces. Kids love bumping their friend’s colors off that they don’t even realize they’re learning! The first person to collect all their opponent’s pieces, wins! You can play some addition and subtraction bump with these HERE or practice short vowels with THESE! All of these games are so fun and the added bonus of teaching kids to have good sportsmanship doesn’t hurt anyone either!
Our little virtual players don’t have to be left out of the fun because technology has given us so many tools to have fun while learning. If your little learners are stuck behind a screen, you can still give them materials to PLAY with that cover those reading and math skills. Help students build number sense and practice addition with these digital roll it, build it, add it games. Facilitate mastering S blends with these interactive boom cards.
There are also so many great educational apps out there that provide playful activities for all ages and ability levels. Some of my favorites include Prodigy, Teach Your Monster to Read, and Khan Academy Kids! Each of these are sure to keep your learners engaged and mastering those skills like a pro!
No matter what WAY you get students playing, get them playing. Always remember that play IS their work. It is the cornerstone of how they engage with the world around them. If you allow them to learn through play, you will absolutely see growth. Not to mention some really happy kids that love learning!
I hope you enjoyed learning more about the importance of play and why to incorporate it in your classroom. I want you to feel confident in ways to make it fun and enjoyable not only for the students, but for you as well! Coming soon, you’ll get to learn more about how I use games during math to differentiate student learning and help students excel! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! You will get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the brand new digital Spin and Add FREEBIE! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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