Starting the Year Off With PLAY

We all know the importance of PLAY in Kindergarten. It is well documented in educational journals and in the minds and hearts of K teachers on the front line. But what about older children? I think most of us are experiencing the shift back to PLAY and how important it is for children to get free, unstructured play time. This is especially true if you are lucky enough to be outside. Parents are being encouraged to reduce the screen time and send their children outside. It's good for their physical and mental health and it teaches them to learn how to play, argue appropriately, negotiate and problem solve. Play is amazing!

 As students return back to school, the focus as of late, has been on building classroom community. It is "trendy", if you will. But we all know the importance and impact that building this sense of community has for the children and for the overall feeling of being settled for the whole year. It is imperative that community is established because it allows children to feel welcome and it is a pivotal part of classroom management.

I have found that a key element in building community is PLAY.  In my 2nd and 3rd grade classroom I allot time in the day a few times a week at the beginning of the year for unstructured play both inside the classroom and outside.  When I say "unstructured", I mean that I do not arrange a game or activity for the children. When they are outside, they may play on the playground, the grass field, or the pavement where they play things like four square, hopscotch, or basketball.

I do this purposefully in the first few weeks of school for 3 reasons:

1. We all know how nice it is to get a break from learning.  Whether it be from university courses we took or a staff meeting we were at.  Coffee time and a break from the mind work out is a much welcomed diversion.  Kids feel the same way.  Once they can turn the academic mind off and just play it gives them a brain boost for more learning later. This is especially true if they take a physical break.

2.  Play = learning.

This is true in kindergarten and this is true with older kids.  You know that first week of school where you are so exhausted and you know the kids are too so you go outside for a little bit of a break from learning?  This is the perfect time for you as a teacher to observe the social situations and get to know your students in a different light.

3.   Allowing play time in school (especially in the first few weeks) to give kids a chance to get to
know each other through a natural form of play is probably one of the most important reasons for ME.  It gives me a chance to observe and see who my new students are and observe them in non-academic environments.  It is like a mini social assessment. Kids are often very different in class then they are in play situations.  If they are just free playing on the playground jumping, running, balancing and so on, there is no competition.  Kids can get their physical exercise and get to know each other in a more relaxed environment. They get to know which kids like to play certain games which helps them to build friendships.  Inside, kids can build with blocks, play board games and engage in meaningful discussions surrounding their imaginative play and cooperative learning though games. Observations can be done as a group or as individuals to show growth over time. The first two weeks is a great time to get a whole group observation in. Click on the pictures to download your free copy.

So what about the nay sayers?  What about those that say you are "losing out on learning" because you are allowing the kids to "play"?  Throughout my years of teaching (20+), the only thing I have noticed is happier children who are more excited to learn, children that are better problem solvers and open to others' ideas and if nothing else, children that are appreciative of the time given to allow them to play.

But the best part is that when I begin my beginning of the year teaching and the "about me" activities, students have so much more to write about and talk about because they have been given the time to explore and relive their talents and things they enjoy and can share them more freely with their peers. I find that it actually JUMP STARTS their learning and I find myself way ahead academically and socially  It's a WIN WIN situation.

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  1. Great post, Shelley!! I love getting to see my students in social situations. I learn so much about them this way!

    Mrs. Beattie's Classroom

    1. Thanks Erin! It sure does wonders to learn about students to just watch. :)

  2. I love your post Shelley! As a first grade teacher I know how crucial this is and I am looking at my schedule to see how I can create more play/exploratory time in my day. The first week is especially tiring for them so we often head outside early a few times.

    Hanging Around In Primary

    1. Thank you Christina! Oh my goodness the kids AND the teachers are so tired during the first week of school!


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