How to Encourage Play-Based Learning in Your Classroom 

Jul 10, 2020 by

Are you a teacher busily preparing lessons for the coming school year? You know you need to evaluate activities and select those that enhance student engagement to maximize learning. Why not harness the power of play? 

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Play-based learning gets young bodies and minds working using the innate motivations all children possess to explore their environment. Here’s why the practice is so powerful and tips for incorporating such activities in your classroom. 

Why Play-Based Learning?

Psychologist Jean Piaget once described play as the business of childhood. Nearly every child adores engaging their imagination and exploring their world through all five senses. However, engagement isn’t the only benefit of this methodology. 

Play-based learning helps children develop social and emotional skills by encouraging them to share experiences with friends and gain a sense of belonging. It also supports pre-literacy and language skills and fosters imagination and creativity. 

Ideas for Play-Based Learning 

How can you incorporate play-based learning into your lessons? The eight techniques below will help you reap the benefits of this instructional style. 

1. Incorporate Tactile Devices

Young learners need to develop fine motor skills and activities like manipulating puzzle pieces aid in this endeavor. Remember, too, that play-based learning engages all the senses, including that of touch. Explore using tools like Play-Doh and sand in student activities. 

You can also encourage tactile learning by how you arrange your classroom space. While you need to maintain social distancing guidelines this year, empowering students to move about helps their physical development. It also burns off excess energy that can spur misbehavior. 

2. Put on a Show 

You can use theater as a play-based instructional technique. You can put on a puppet show to teach new vocabulary terms or act out events in stories and books. Have students create original skits depicting historical events. Maybe one of your students will write the score for the next “Hamilton”-like Broadway production. They’ll have fun and feel engaged in their learning. 

3. Expand Art and Music Instruction 

With the recent emphasis on standardized test scores, many schools pared back their art and musical programs to focus on the three Rs. However, research indicates doing so harms student achievement. While you may not be able to supersede districtwide decisions, you can embed these activities into your core curriculum through play-based learning. 

Have students bring old magazines to class to make collages. Separate students into groups of three or four to form a band and write a song explaining a new concept. Craft models of different shapes out of clay. 

4. Bring Back Home Economics

Baking a cake with your class serves as both a play-based activity and a math lesson. The youngest learners can count the number of ingredients in a dish, while older children can learn to convert measurements while baking. 

What if your classroom doesn’t come complete with a kitchenette? You can still use this practice. If you have an old blender at home, you can bring it in to make fruit smoothies. You can also gather ingredients for simple snacks like ants on a log. 

5. Plant a Classroom Garden 

Due to social distancing guidelines, expect students to spend more time outdoors. You don’t need this shift to include recess only. If your school has space, you can plant a classroom garden to teach plant biology and horticulture. 

You’ll need tools for this endeavor, so add these supplies to the classroom wish list that you distribute to parents. Many families adopted gardening during the spring shutdown — you might get a bumper crop of seeds for free. 

6. Encourage Nature Exploration 

Do you have a park or nature center near your school? If so, determine what permissions you need to walk your class to the facility for outdoor instruction. You can take your students on a guided tour of various plants or have them search for and identify insect species. In the fall, you can gather leaves to make seasonal wreaths while teaching about photosynthesis. 

7. Introduce Reusing and Recycling 

If you want to engage young imaginations, ask your students how they would reuse or repurpose items like empty paper towel rolls or soda cans. Have kids create treat containers for their pets at home out of recycled milk cartons. Guide them through how to transform an empty pizza box into a work of art. 

8. Break Out the Board Games 

You probably don’t want children sharing supplies, so get creative by inventing socially distant ways to play popular board games. You can teach the alphabet by playing a homemade version of Scattergories. Have students create bingo cards containing math computations like two-plus-two. When you call out a number, they get a chip if they have written an equation that adds up. 

Encourage Play-Based Learning in Your Classroom This Year

Play-based learning fosters creativity, builds social skills and harnesses the innate desire of kids to explore their world. Use the above tips to engage your learners in this coming school year. 

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