“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul”.
Centers in the classroom
Children in my kindergarten classroom are immersed in a realm where play is evidence in their socio-emotional and cognitive learning. Centers in my classroom include math, literacy, and free-play. I engage students through dynamic and interactive “hands-on” experiences, which uses their imagination and creativity. Rather than having all students perform the same activity, various activities are incorporated into one lesson. Activities in math centers can include playing dice games, writing numbers using finger-paint, and sorting objects. For literacy centers, students can be listening to a voice recorded story while following along a book, going on a scavenger hunt and finding letter names around the classroom, using play dough to make alphabetical letters and playing alphabet bingo games. During free-play time, students have a choice to play at house center, paint, build castles and participate in any activity that they wish to explore either individually or in groups.
Prior to starting the education program, I had never heard of play-based learning and found it difficult to wrap my head around it. I remember asking my mentor for her input and she told me it is something new that is gaining popularity but she herself is unsure of its credibility because in her defense, the children need to be prepared for grade one (i.e., use of worksheets, being able to write, read, and comprehend). When I found out that I would be teaching kindergarten, I found myself in a play-based classroom with my SA emphasizing on ‘as less worksheets as possible’. As I became more involved in the classroom, I was reminded of myself in kindergarten and how much fun I had! As the school year continued, I started to do research on play-based methods and I finally understand and see the benefits of this kind of learning.
At its essence, kindergarten children thrive on active, moving, and engaging lessons and they are known to have shorter attention spans and sitting-still abilities. Their ability to capture information rapidly and their genuine curiosities about the world around them is vital to them being successful in and outside of school, especially when they are given freedom to inquire and explore.
Play-based learning allows children to be intrinsically motivated, self-initiated and learning through playing and exploring of the five senses – touch, feel, smell, see, and taste. Children have the ability to express their learning creativity thus touching on multiple intelligences and a diversity of learners. Schools need to be fun and meaningful and items that appear to be fun such as play dough, blocks, puzzles, and art supplies can be incorporated into the learning process.
The theory of play emerged from Donald Winnicott’s work on children using play in learning and he states “to control what is outside one has to do things, not simply to think or to wish, and doing things takes time. Playing is doing (Winnicott, 1971).” Since learning takes time, play-based learning reinforces same and/or similar concepts and allow children to grow and learn on a continuum.
Because play-based learning require students to use their imagination and creativity, students are thus constructing their own learning. Piaget (1962) proposed play as important for cognitive growth and exploration in children, especially through experiencing with their five senses at a certain stage. Children develop concepts through active involvement with the environment, and construct their own meaning and knowledge as they explore their surroundings. Similarly, Vygotsky (1962) believed that play depends on the child’s immediate environment and the attitudes of parents, teachers, and society. He emphasizes the role of teachers and parents as playing an active role in their learning and the zone of proximal development is where students, with the support of teachers can master concepts and ideas that they cannot understand on their own. Other ideas of play include the whole brain theory where early experiences and opportunities for stimulations through the five senses and especially positive interactions with adults and peers are important for development of multiple pathways in the brain.
Through my own experiences in the classroom, I discovered play-based learning as beneficial for children to gain ownership over their own learning and environment thus building self-confidence and feelings of success.
Incorporating play-based into my own classroom
Having been exposed to two different classroom settings where one is based on pen and paper and the other is play-based, is quite exciting! I plan to incorporate both methods into my classroom because I see the value in both, especially centers which guide children in exploration, discovery, socialization, language development, and using their imagination. Social-emotional skills require time to develop and I believe play-based learning will greatly help encourage this aspect of learning if we are to look at the holistic development of a child. I’m also interested in other philosophy of teaching methods (i.e., Montessori, Reggio Emilia) that is a play-based curriculum. I’m also interested in learning more about student's spiritual growth as it touches upon play-based learning.
Fröbel, F. (1826) On the Education of Man (Die Menschenerziehung), Keilhau/Leipzig: Wienbrach.
Piaget, J., (1962), Play, dreams and imitation in childhood, W. W. Norton & Company, New York
Vygotsky, L. S., (1962), Thought and Language, Wiley, New York
Winnicott, D. W. Playing and reality. New York: Basic Books, 1971.