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The Power of Letting Kids Play at School ~ A Success Story for Students and Teachers

“For a small child there is no division between playing and learning; between the things he or she does ‘just for fun’ and things that are ‘educational.’ The child learns while living, and any part of living that is enjoyable is also play.” ~ Penelope Leach

During one of my Remembering to Play playshops, an Early Learning Professional shared how allowing more play in and outside the classroom has benefited both students and teachers in dramatic and unexpected ways.

Here is what she told me:

As part of an initiative to slowly move towards more play in our school, we have increased the children’s playtime in our classroom to a minimum of 45 minutes to sometimes one hour per day (from 20-30 minutes). We have also increased their gym and/or outside playtime to at least 30 minutes each day and occasionally 40 minutes per day, if at all possible (from 15 minutes). The results have been amazing!!! Here are a few of the benefits we have noticed in just in the last month:

The staff and students are less stressed, and more relaxed and happy—a lot more smiles and laughter! I personally feel closer to the children because I have more time to talk to and play with them. Before I was always busy trying to get them to do something, like their mom’s day card, because time was running out and we had to finish quick so we would be ready for the next activity, gym, OT time, circle time, etc. I have also had many more opportunities to observe them, “catch them being good,” praise and encourage their good deeds and qualities. As a result, I think their positive behaviors have increased.

The children have been socializing more with each other—talking, interacting, sharing, taking turns. New friendships are forming and children are playing with a greater variety of peers, not always their best friend. And there has been a drastic increase in imaginary play, and some improvement in solving their own problems, instead of running to the staff for help every time.

The negative behaviors have decreased. I think this is mainly because they are getting a lot more run around / gross motor time. I have a class of very active boys, many who are hyperactive with severe behavior challenges. Now when I ask them to sit down and listen to a story, do a craft or read a book, they are more cooperative, able to pay attention and sit longer. Before, there was a lot more resistance to following staff’s directions.

Because they are getting a lot more time to do what they want, I think they are more willing to do what the staff wants.

We still pull them over to a table at least once a day to complete some kind of activity, i.e. a Mom’s day card, play a game, count, etc. Therapists are trying not to pull the children away from the class or activity they are engaged with, and instead trying to practice their goals with them while they are engaged in play in the classroom. This does not always work because some kids are easily distracted by the noise and activity around them. For example, it is hard to practice speech sounds if the SLP and child cannot hear each other. Overall, however, I would estimate the therapists are able to cover about 50% of their goals right along in the class with the children still playing an activity of their choice.

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If you need more evidence on the power of play, check out this piece of research from Peter Gray via Psychology Today:

“In the 1970s, the German government sponsored a large-scale comparison in which the graduates of 50 play-based kindergartens were compared, over time, with the graduates of 50 academic direct-instruction-based kindergartens. Despite the initial academic gains of direct instruction, by grade four the children from the direct-instruction kindergartens performed significantly worse than those from the play-based kindergartens on every measure that was used. In particular, they were less advanced in reading and mathematics and less well adjusted socially and emotionally.”

With the amount of research and anecdotal evidence we now have, it is becoming increasingly difficult to deny why play is so important in child learning and development. Please share this article with your colleagues, family and friends. It’s time that we all become advocates for the power of play to raise a child!

About the author: Vince Gowmon presents keynotes and playshops and offers somatic Life Coaching and Counselling in person, on Skype and over the phone. For more of his writing, subscribe to his free e-newsletter. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults

Related training:
Remembering to Play ~ Inspiring Joy, Freedom and Self-Care

Related reading:
Remembering the Soulfulness of Play ~ Trusting the Intelligence of Play to Raise a Child
The Core Reason We “Ready” Children Too Early and Too Much
How Timed Math Worksheets Cause Anxiety and Erode Learner Confidence

The Disappearance of Play ~ 7 Reasons We Play Less Than Ever
Let Children Play and they Remain in a State of Flow ~ They Move with the Intelligence of Life

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