I Play with a Purpose and a Plan
Play happens throughout the day in Kindergarten. During literacy experiences we use magnet letters, play dough, sand trays, paints, and a variety of kinesthetic learning tools. In math we play games, discover through manipulatives, and engage in building activities. Science and Studies take us outdoors, let us question, discover, and explore the inner workings of the world around us. All of these are critical pieces of the experience for the young learner. Yet, as much as we try to make our classrooms student-driven and personalize experiences to meet the needs of our kids, this type of play cannot be the only play that happens in our rooms.
Free play is the missing piece that all too often does not get the priority that it is meant to within the learning experience of a young child. It is seen as "extra" or the thing we can skip when everything else takes more time than we had planned. I would argue that free play should not be the extra thing, it should be the main thing from which all of our other instruction is driven. If we closely observe our children during free play, we will learn:
What interests them
How they interact with others
What they avoid
What learning spaces work best for them
Who they work well with
What challenges them
How they transfer their learning
What they are ready to learn
How they treat others
How they use executive functioning skills
How they participate within a community
In other words, we learn who they are when we listen and watch them play.
In order to give free play the place it deserves in education, we need to treat it with the same respect and purpose that we would any other lesson. For teachers, that means it has to have a plan. I certainly do not mean that we map out play for our kids! What I mean is that we need to create a meaningful framework in which we highlight the value of play, and the ways in which we facilitate growth and learning through free play experiences.
Like many districts throughout the country, we are required to submit lesson plans with attached standards for our learning objectives. Here is a copy of my free play lesson plan with New Jersey Learning Standards highlighted. Please feel free to make a copy and adjust the plan so that it works for you!
For some great tips on setting up a class twitter account, check out this awesome guest post by Sarah Barnett on Minds in Bloom.
Hopefully, these ideas serve as a starting or continuation point for creating a meaningful framework for free play in your classroom. This is a positive step toward validating the work of young children and giving it its rightful place for our 21st century learners.
Heart & Soul,