How to Incorporate Play-Based Learning in the Classroom
Play-based learning can be a powerful teaching method. Keep reading to discover how it can benefit your students and enhance your classroom.
What Is Play-Based Learning?
Play-based learning is a classroom activity where students explore subjects and materials by playing together or independently. Students lead play-based learning, determining what they want to play with and for how long. They can have multiple play experiences to choose from and vague toys and props they can play with to tailor their play experience to their needs and interests.
Play-based learning helps students learn through personal discovery and interests. Teachers can create an environment with open-ended interpretations and possibilities so students can come to conclusions and explore subjects without adult intervention.
Types of Play-Based Learning
What is a play-based learning curriculum? When you want to integrate this teaching method into your classroom, understanding the different play types that go into play-based learning can help you develop a curriculum that best supports your needs.
Types of Play
Play-based learning supports many types of play, which help children develop, and it’s primarily unstructured — kids are free of rules and given more freedom from adults to explore and discover their surroundings. Incorporating unstructured play into the classroom is beneficial when learning is so heavily structured, as teachers guide students through lessons to instruct specific knowledge. Unstructured play helps kids process and apply what they’ve learned through toys and scenarios.
Even though play-based learning is unstructured, teachers still play an essential role. Play-based learning often falls under guided play because it mixes structured and unstructured play elements. Like in unstructured play, kids control their activities, but adults are more present and offer learning opportunities. Teachers might ask questions or provide relevant materials and toys. This play type allows students to learn and make mistakes without too much interference from adults.
When you want to encourage various interactions and experiences in your classroom, play-based learning can offer the following:
- Pretend and imaginative play: Pretend play helps kids learn symbolism by substituting everyday objects for others in their minds. For example, children often pretend blocks are cars and push them around to mimic driving. Imaginative play involves children incorporating fantasy and fictional elements. This playtime is when magic, mythical creatures, and other worlds can enter classrooms. Play-based learning encourages kids to relate their playtime to lessons, from acting out their favorite books to pretending to go to outer space.
- Domestic play: Domestic play allows children to mimic society and various roles, from daily tasks to specific jobs. Many kids imitate their caregivers during this play by acting out their chores or household roles. In the classroom, kids can participate in domestic play and play-based learning about societal functions and integrate that into their free time. For instance, kids might pretend to own a store and act out the jobs associated with it after a lesson about money.
- Sensory play: Many subjects offer sensory experiences, but traditional lessons might cause teachers to rely on worksheets and PowerPoints. Sensory play allows kids to form better spatial awareness and motor skills while encouraging them to explore the world. Play-based learning involves a more tactile learning approach, so students can investigate the world with their senses.
Different types of play-based learning allow students to receive comprehensive experiences while discovering new interests and applying knowledge from the class.
Play-based learning can apply to any academic subject, making it an excellent fit for many classrooms and grades. Whether you’re teaching preschool or elementary school students, you can implement the following play-based learning examples into your curriculum:
- Math: Play-based learning allows students to practice and apply math skills and lessons. Students might determine how high their block tower is by counting the number of blocks used to make it. Play-based learning provides many opportunities for students to count, sort, and divide. With teachers nearby, kids can ask for help when needed.
- Literature: Communication opportunities and new vocabulary can help kids boost their literary skills while applying them in a more natural setting. They can learn to use words outside of learning environments, so they can better use them outside of school.
- Science: Science is a very hands-on subject, and play-based learning can allow students to interact with materials and concepts. Sensory play can help children explore the elements and discover their properties. Students can use the scientific method to solve problems and make conclusions about their surroundings and actions.
- Social sciences: From history to communication, teachers can use play-based learning to continue discussions about this subject. For example, students might pretend to play from a particular historical period. They can think about what the characters from the past might do to in their game.
Integrating play into learning can help students be more involved and motivated. Students might be able to connect better with subjects. When every child has various strengths and skills, they can discover how they can excel in subjects to bring enjoyment into the learning process.
6 Play-Based Learning Benefits
Play in the classroom can benefit teachers and students in many ways. When teachers are responsible for covering several subjects and developing student skills, using comprehensive instructional methods like play-based learning can help teachers offer care for their students. Here are the other benefits of play-based learning:
1. Academic Preparation
Students need certain skills and information to progress in their education, and teachers can strive to give students everything they need to succeed after leaving their classroom. Especially when subjects like math build on previous topics, students can better tackle more complex concepts and lessons when they understand the basics thoroughly.
Play-based learning activities make education fun and engage kids more actively in subjects and lessons. In traditional learning, teachers determine what students must know and the direction classes go in. Play-based learning allows students to apply concepts in a way that interests them, keeping them more engaged in the subject material and cementing essential aspects.
This learning approach also appeals to various learning types. Playing adds more movement and engagement to learning, making it ideal for kinesthetic learners who need to interact with concepts to understand them.
2. Social and Emotional Development
Preschool and elementary school are when kids often develop necessary social and emotional skills. Play-based learning in early childhood creates an environment where kids can practice skills among their peers. With teachers present, adults can step in when students need help handling complex situations or emotions.
Some social-emotional skills students can gain from this learning method include:
- Communicating: Students practice several communication skills and techniques when playing together. Successful playtime and social interactions might include expressing their thoughts and emotions, compromising and negotiating with playmates, and listening to what others say and feel.
- Sharing: As kids play, they learn how to share. These essential social skills apply to spaces and things, helping students learn to cohabitate and divide resources. Sharing is another way children can practice compromising and develop communication skills as they try to find a solution.
- Processing and identifying emotions: Kids experience many emotions throughout the day. Play allows them to process what they’ve learned and felt throughout their lessons, so they can be prepared to return to structured teaching. Students with more emotional control can focus more in classes to strengthen their educational progress.
- Developing empathy: Empathy is an essential emotional and social skill, and play helps children cultivate it. Playing pretend and using different roles helps students see various perspectives and become aware of how others might feel. When playing with other children, kids can practice considering their emotions when making a decision or statement.
- Gaining confidence: Each student has unique strengths. Play-based learning can help kids identify areas where they might excel. When traditional education focuses on finding the correct answer, play-based learning shifts this mindset to discovering and understanding a solution. The process is the more important aspect here. Students can feel good about themselves when they accomplish something or tackle a difficult challenge. Higher confidence can keep them invested in their education and help them face more difficulties.
3. Physical Development
Play-based learning can occur in the classroom or the playground and caters to many physical experiences, helping students develop fine and gross motor skills. Playing with toys can help students refine smaller movements for developed muscles and bodies. Active play, like jumping, swinging, and skipping, can enhance gross motor skills and develop muscle mass. As children learn to move, they can improve their coordination and balance for more control over their bodies.
4. Sense of Identity and Autonomy
Children have very little control over their lives. Play-based learning gives them autonomy by letting them choose how they interact with others and their environment, allowing them to assess their needs and desires to determine their actions. Whether they play alone or in groups, students can become more independent thinkers and actors when making decisions themselves.
Students can also learn through play activities what makes them unique, helping them form a clearer idea of themselves. Exploration and trying new things might help them discover a new passion, or they might realize what skills they have. Playing allows kids to know themselves and build their personalities to become more well-rounded, self-assured adults.
5. Understanding of the World
Play-based learning uses real-world applications and examples to connect students to subjects and concepts outside the classroom. When students can’t see the relevance of their lessons, they might become less engaged and fall behind. Real-world examples show them that what they’re learning is essential and caters to the naturally curious side of kids. Connecting to schoolwork at home and elsewhere can motivate them to keep learning, increasing their motivation in the classroom.
6. Low-Stakes Environment
Learning can be challenging for kids, especially when they need to process hours of continual lessons. When teachers and caregivers focus heavily on finding the right answer or obtaining specific knowledge, students can be afraid to try new things or make mistakes.
Play-based learning creates a low-stakes, less stressful environment for learning. When surrounded by their peers in a controlled, familiar space, kids can feel safer branching out and trying new things. Whether developing communication skills or testing a hypothesis, they can feel more comfortable thinking outside the box and taking a leap of faith. Because adults are nearby, children know they have someone to turn to if they have questions or need help.
Even though teachers might monitor playtime, children have more freedom because of the less structured play-based learning approach. They can try multiple solutions before coming to the right one without the pressure of worksheets, tests, and grades.
How to Encourage Play-Based Learning in the Classroom
While students should control and determine play-based learning sessions, adults can guide kids through learning elements in many ways. Using the right strategies and interaction methods can help teachers make the most of their play-based learning sessions.
Teachers can support learning during unstructured playtime by asking questions about what the child is doing to spark a connection to the subject matter and encourage critical thinking. Open-ended questions allow students to interpret their actions and objectives without the pressure to provide the correct answer. Kids can reflect on their play experience in a low-pressure environment while making their time a more meaningful learning experience.
Some examples of how teachers can use this encouragement method include:
- Determining quantity: Teachers can encourage students to develop their math skills by bringing counting into their playtime. Teachers might ask students to tell them how many blocks they used in their tower or how many cups they’ll need for their tea party. When playing store, teachers can ask how much items cost, and students can determine if they have enough money. This method can show kids how math applies to life outside the classroom.
- Clarifying function: Playtime is an excellent way for kids to learn how to use different objects or think about their roles. Whether children are playing with blocks or costumes, asking them how to use them can encourage kids to think critically and problem-solve. This method can help students think more creatively, allowing them to think of new ways to play with their toys.
- Learning preferences: Asking kids if they like what they’re doing is a great way to encourage them to follow their interests and discover their passions. Teachers can use this method to assess classroom interests for more tailored lessons that keep students engaged and motivated during structured learning sessions.
Asking questions is an excellent way for teachers to get involved without taking over play sessions. When teachers ask questions, they allow students to show what they know and have learned without testing or grading them. Questions are helpful when students have trouble with a concept or object. Teachers can guide them through the problem-solving process without giving them the answer, strengthening student skills and critical thinking.
Young children are still learning to speak and communicate properly. Teachers can help them grow their literacy and language skills during playtime by using relevant vocabulary and sentence structures.
When students are playing with unfamiliar objects, teachers can use their questions or commentary to introduce kids to new words naturally, so students can actively learn and better retain information. Asking and answering questions can help students learn how to form sentences and use words in everyday conversation.
Divide Space Into Different Play Areas
Children have unique play goals and preferences. Play-based learning relies on kids’ ability to choose how they play, so splitting play spaces into different areas can help students follow their interests and desires. Some play spaces teachers can have include:
- Sensory tables
- Reading nooks
- Pretend and imaginative play areas
Each space will help cater to a different type of play and discovery. Students can go to what interests them but can also move quickly between spaces as needed. Teachers can focus on how they place their areas to optimize each play type. Quiet play areas, like reading nooks, will do better with more space between them and louder play spaces.
Incorporate Relevant Props and Toys
Teachers can support learning for specific concepts and subjects by creating a play environment that encourages kids’ exploration. After lessons, students can apply what they have learned and discover what they like about the subject by interacting directly with its elements. For example, students can play with floating and heavy toys in their water table after a science lesson. That connection offers real-world examples of what kids have learned in class.
Let Kids Find Solutions
Having teachers present during learning opportunities can help decrease frustration and stress when students have problems. When kids need help, they can seek out a trusted adult, or teachers can approach them when they sense students need it. Teachers can encourage and support learning by letting kids try different methods until they find a solution. This approach helps boost problem-solving skills and teaches students to use their available resources and critical thinking to build stronger resilience.
Leave Room for Imagination and Creativity
While teachers can guide children toward certain subjects, play-based learning is a time of exploration and interpretation. Kids should be able to engage with multiple topics and activities throughout play areas. Leaving room for imagination and creativity can help students process their emotions, socialize with other students, and develop literary skills.
When setting up play-based learning in your classroom, you can create a more creative environment by using toys and items with more vague purposes. Children can develop more unique solutions or practice problem-solving by trying to interpret how to use them. These toys can also spark imaginative play, further developing their creativity.
10 Play-Based Learning Activities
Teachers can create many play-based learning opportunities with various activities and toys. When you want to support learning during playtime, consider offering several play experiences. Some toys and options that can enhance your classroom’s play-based activities include:
- Dressing up: Kids can act out scenes from history, literature, or real-world social scenarios when they dress up.
- Creating house or store setups: Let kids engage with practical math lessons in play stores.
- Building with blocks: Kids can engage with science lessons like gravity as block towers fall.
- Using rugs with maps and roads: Kids can practice social lessons, like patience and taking turns, by pretending to drive a car through a city.
- Recording items with scales and measuring tape: Integrate science lessons into play by using different units of measurement.
- Making objects with clay or playdough: Encourage kids to apply lessons from art classes and develop social skills by sharing tools and materials.
- Putting on puppet shows: Kids can practice empathy or act out literature lessons through this expressive play.
- Writing letters and drawing: Promote literacy and vocabulary development by having kids write words in sand tables or on pavement with chalk.
- Exploring with magnifying glasses: Go out to the playground and encourage kids to engage with science lessons by examining leaves and insects.
- Playing with empty cardboard boxes: Let kids unleash their imaginations to create their own buildings or pretend to be operating vehicles.
How Does Playground Equipment Promote Play-Based Learning?
Playgrounds are beneficial spaces for development in childhood. Kids can gather here to play together or independently. With various equipment types available, playgrounds let students choose how they want to play, allowing teachers to use a playground for play-based learning. Some ways your playground can support play-based learning include:
- Support physical play: While classrooms are great spaces for play-based learning, they might not support all types of essential play. Play spaces are perfect for physical play, giving kids room to move and exert energy. With various equipment and capabilities, playgrounds help children develop fine and gross motor skills while building muscle and coordination.
- Provide sensory development opportunities: Playground equipment can create many sensory experiences with various boards and activities. Musical equipment can help kids interpret different sounds and develop their language skills, while movement boards help them distinguish multiple shapes and textures as kids work on their motor skills.
- Encourage social engagement: With open spaces, playgrounds let kids group up and play games with their friends. Additionally, public spaces require students to share with other groups and classes. Kids might need to communicate, negotiate, and compromise to agree with classmates and other students, allowing them to practice these essential skills.
- Allow interactions with nature: As outdoor spaces, playgrounds let students engage with natural elements, enabling scientific interaction. Students can explore weather phenomena, insects, leaves, sticks, rocks, and other features. Teachers can even use playgrounds to host lessons, creating more excitement for structured learning.
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