Today’s elementary school students often start out in all-day kindergarten classrooms. As these same kids advance through grades 1 -5, they are often expected to shoulder homework plus extracurricular activities like sports or music lessons. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently aired “A Minute for Kids” radio series and advised that parents should try not to over-schedule their children’s days.
So, if elementary students are spending large amounts of time at school and participating in after school activities, is the typical kid engaging in enough unstructured playtime? This is an important point to consider since many educators believe young students naturally use play to learn and express ideas.
As a teacher, what can you do to balance learning time and playtime?
Well, the good news is that some educators believe that play and learning can actually be the same thing. And, the National Association of Elementary School Principals published a piece that essentially states play -based learning should be supported and even incorporated into classrooms when possible.
Playtime often leads to creativity and an elementary school classroom is a great place for kids to explore and become comfortable with that concept. If your school’s principal is on board with play-based learning activities, consider these ideas for your own students:
- Provide a Dramatic Play Area. Young students often love pretending and this play-based strategy is a popular one. Try to provide simple props and/or easy dress up items like masks, capes, etc.
- Allow Time for Games. Whether you think of it as a brain break or a play-based learning strategy, try to find time to let your students play games. Consider ones that are easily played in a classroom setting like Memory or Connect 4. Dice games are another nice option that can also double as math lessons.
- Set out Wooden Blocks and/or Legos for Construction Play. Kids of all ages are usually fascinated by wooden building blocks and Lego-type materials. Boys may be especially drawn to these activities and building time can be a great way to make an indoor recess fun.
- Use Arts and Crafts Projects to Foster Creativity and Fine Motors Skills Development. Even just a quick peek at Pinterest can give you dozens of ideas on how to blend a craft with a lesson. Students in both the upper and lower elementary grades can benefit from hands-on artistic activities. One idea is to start off with a sorting project and then you can allow the kids to turn the pieces into an art project of their own choosing.
Many elementary teachers may already be using play-based learning strategies without realizing it, because the nature of early education lends itself naturally to crafts and games. When thinking about today’s students and the lure of electronic entertainment combined with large blocks of structured time, incorporating play-based activities may be a welcome relief to kids in your classroom.
Of course, an added benefit is that kids who are able to engage in playtime may be developing the cognitive and social skills necessary to become successful students. Try to allow for an increase in your students’ play-based activities and you may be thrilled with the results.