It’s no secret that kids love to play, but there is more to playing than having fun. In fact, play is a great way to learn, both in structured and unstructured environments, according to education experts.
âIn addition to promoting curiosity, exploration and creativity, play provides children with the opportunity to practice important executive functions and self-regulation skills, such as paying attention, inhibiting their impulses, and memorizing and updating. information day, âsays Stephanie Jones, early childhood teacher. development at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.
Play is the work children do as they develop, says Karen Aronian, educator and parenting expert in New York City. âIt’s the foundation of understanding,â she says. “As they play, children practice the roles and skills of their burgeoning literacy, inventiveness and interconnection.”
Because it is so developmentally important, many classrooms across the country are incorporating play. This is what play-based learning looks like in preschool, kindergarten, and the early grades.
Learning through play in pre-kindergarten
Play has long been an essential and recognized way for children to grow and learn, says Katherine Green, an affiliate faculty member at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
âIt has been shown to have a direct positive influence on literacy and math and supports the growth of social skills, confidence and self-regulation,â said Green.
In kindergarten, play learns, and experts say classrooms should be designed to allow children to engage with toys and materials in a way that they direct and control themselves. This allows for increased creativity and engaged learning, says Green. For example, imaginary restaurants or stores in a classroom allow children to play with written materials like menus, shopping lists or recipes. Even if they cannot read, it initiates a rudimentary understanding of the language.
âKids who pretend to shop in the classroom store expand their knowledge of literacy, math and their social world,â says Green. âThese early, fun learning experiences prepare children for a life of better academic performance. “
In preschool, children begin to acquire the basic social and emotional skills necessary for sharing, taking turns, and waiting, skills needed to be successful in peer interactions and schooling, according to Jones.
âThese foundational skills prepare children to engage in increasingly complex play with their peers in kindergarten and early years,â says Jones.
Learning through play in kindergarten
Active, child-led learning doesn’t stop when kids enter kindergarten or first grade, says Green.
âNot only do academic skills increase in the early years, but so do socio-emotional development,â she says – and play is an essential part. âThe game has been shown to help skills that enhance negotiation, problem solving, perspective taking, role taking, cooperation, social understanding and much more. “
In kindergarten, the game is organized more around games with more competitive rules, explains Ruslan Slutsky, professor at the University of Toledo specializing in early childhood education, language development and children’s games.
âPlaying games as a whole group in the classroom is a fun way to break up the academic part of the classroom,â he says. âThis doesn’t mean that play can’t be about learning, but making it more playful gives kids a mental break and makes learning more fun. “
Learn through play in the early years
Even in the early years, children learn well through play, says Elizabeth DeWitt, senior instructional designer and curriculum specialist at Learning Without Tears in Maryland.
Experts say what often works best for children is connected learning using multisensory strategies and different materials, with opportunities to explore and use their imaginations. This means that students should be actively engaged rather than sitting for long periods of time as they practice math and literacy in a more structured setting.
âChildren cannot help but remember the concepts being taught when the teaching experience involves seeing it, building it, singing or dancing about it, having a snack related to it, hear a story read aloud (about it) and then have a discussion or do dramatic or pretend play related to it, âDeWitt says.
How parents can make play easier
Every moment is a good time to learn, according to DeWitt, and there is a lot there is that parents can do to make learning through play easier.
âThe best thing parents can do to make play-based learning at home easier is to play with their children,â she says. âGet involved in what they’re doing. Actively playing with your children is healthy for your whole family and can build stronger relationships while learning and having fun together.
Rusty Keeler, who designs play environments and has written several books on play, says parents should give their children unlimited opportunities to play at home. Inside, it could be clothes or disguise blocks. Outdoors, it can be sand, running water, or loose materials like sticks, stones, building materials, and even old kitchen utensils that children can use as they please.
Keeler says the key is for kids to have the time, space and freedom to play the way they want.
âSet up a corner of your living room or garden where they can play,â he says. âMy own backyard is a mess, it’s like a zone of lawlessness. There are loose materials that my sons can play with, it’s not tidy – plants go crazy – but it invites grasshoppers, butterflies, worms and squirrels to create the most environment. rich for learning.