What is Play?
Children are curious by nature and they make meaning of the world around them through play. Ask a common observer what they perceive when they walk into a preschool or kindergarten, they might say “Oh they’re just playing”. But ask an early childhood educator and you will get a whole different story. Behind their games and play there is so much going on. Play/games support a child’s healthy development of mind and body. They don’t just develop their gross and fine motor movements, but also communication, thinking and most importantly their social-emotional skills.
So are schools really embedding play/game based learning? If children learn through exploration and investigation why is it that the older our students get the less they play games in schools? If it is supposed to be ‘real-world learning’, why are students not given ‘real-life’ opportunities to experience?
As I looked at the definition of play, what stood out for me were the words ‘enjoyment’ and ‘recreation’. That means play is supposed to be ‘free’ from all seriousness and it should definitely be ‘spontaneous’ and driven by the child not an adult. That also got me thinking that it is not just the ‘teacher’ that is important but the environment is just as equally important for the child growth and development. It has to be a safe environment while providing the freedom to explore and be creative. Play is a child’s way to assimilate how the world works. Most importantly children do not engage in play for any rewards or goals. Most schools are not equipped this way plus the burden of the curriculum that has to be covered in a given time puts play/game to rest. Therefore, education in most schools around the world ends up in a diploma or certificate as the goal and not for the intrinsic purpose of learning how things might work or how issues might be resolved.
Technology and play-based learning
What role can technology play in play/game-based learning? These past few weeks we have been using our imagination and creativity to make connections in the unit How We Express Ourselves. Students played with puppets, musical instruments, etc. to help them understand the world around them. Since we did not have enough puppets or musical instruments in the classroom we decided to make our own. Students did some research by brainstorming in class as well as asking their parents what they would require. We also went online to look at some pictures of puppets to get an understanding.
Another activity that the students have been busy with is using PuppetPals and Garage Band in small groups. All this would not have been possible without technology. I will be the first one to point out that yes these activities are mostly ‘teacher-led’ but that is because I am still learning how to use the right technology tool, not just for the purpose of using it but integrating it into play-based learning while it correlates with the unit.
Importance of play in life:
Every morning my students come in the class excited to start their day. My way of doing the attendance is by laying out their laminated name cards on the table, which they trace over with a white board marker. As soon as they come in the classroom they are eager to get that out of the way because they either want to play with the wooden blocks, magna tiles, LEGO, with the sensory table or in the kitchen. Through this they learn to interact with each other, using ‘nice words’ to talk and not their hands. They are learning to build a community within the classroom. We are out on the playground twice during the day for at least an hour (more most of the days). There they build relationships with students from other classes and grade levels. While it is important in today’s world to teach our children media literacy. I feel it is more important to let them just PLAY, whether outside or inside as it builds the child’s personality as a whole.
If we look at ‘teaching and learning in the IB’, there is Inquiry, Action, Reflection at its core. So keeping that in mind, play/game based learning plays a very important role in any classroom from ages 3-19 since every child comes to school with their own unique learning style.
As I watched Tim Brown: Tales of creativity and play, I am more convinced that we need to create schools as places where students feel secure to take risks and indulge in inquiry through play. They would learn to reflect on those actions (indulgence) and come up with creative solutions to problems around.
I came across this article and it makes me wish we had more such FabLabs where children can actively play and learn through hands-on activities. They would not just be exploring but problem-solving and applying their understanding through real-life experiences. What do you think?