Children are naturally motivated to play, an essential part of learning development for all children. Bristol Township School District utilizes play-based kindergarten and play-based learning, a context for learning through which children organize and make sense of their social worlds. It is child-directed learning with adult guidance in a natural learning environment.
To teach parents why play-based learning is so effective and how the district is using this approach in kindergarten, Cindy Kruse, of Cindy Kruse Consulting, led two workshops called “The Power of Play” on Nov. 10 and 17, over Zoom. The workshops were open to parents of kindergarten students in BTSD; however, the information can be applied to all children.
“Play-based learning helps children learn to solve problems, persist through challenges, build vocabulary skills, and gain background knowledge in many content areas,” said Kruse. “One of the reasons that play-based learning is so effective is that it creates a level playing field for learning, especially for students where English is a second language and children that may have a learning disability.”
A student who might have difficulty writing a sentence can also engage in play with elaborate story lines.
“Research suggests that children demonstrate their most advanced language skills during play, and these language skills are strongly related to emergent literacy,” said Kruse.
Free play and guided play, two components of play-based learning, are also vital to foster social and emotional skills.
“During play, children learn how to negotiate with others, to take turns and to manage themselves while interacting with others,” said Kruse. “It gives them a place and a time for learning that cannot be achieved through completing a worksheet.”
During the workshops, parents learned that play-based learning in kindergarten is purposely and intentionally planned by the teacher and aligned to PA Department of Education standards. According to the PDE, “Instruction in the early years often looks different than instruction in the older grades. Learning occurs within the context of play and active learning strategies where children are engaged in concrete and hands-on discovery, experimentation, and interaction with materials, their peers and nurturing adults.”
Additionally, parents learned simple strategies to unlock the power of play at home, such as knowing when and how to support children during play. For example, asking open-ended questions during guided play can allow students to think a bit more deeply and make connections.
In kindergarten this year, BTSD is incorporating play-based learning with classroom teachers in addition to outdoor recess with lunch monitors.
“We are providing our students with opportunities to choose the objects with which they play,” said Sue Sutton, kindergarten teacher at Mill Creek Elementary School. “They are encouraged to organize and plan their play while practicing appropriate social interactions with peers.”
Sutton has had opportunities to guide students and assess academics while playing as well. During playtime, Sutton helped students set up a pumpkin shop. She helped them sound out the word “pumpkin” to write letters for the sign. Students decided pumpkins would be sold at one dollar each and another student created a price tag. Next, Sutton asked questions, such as, “How much money does it cost to buy three pumpkins?”
“I then could test for one-to-one correspondence and counting skills while students counted out the one dollar bills to pay,” said Sutton.
Some kindergarten students have never attended preschool or daycare and have no siblings, so having to share and play together is a new concept for them. This is why kindergarten teachers are spending a lot of time assisting students with developing social skills, making decisions and problem-solving, and sharing with their peers.
“I believe this is time well spent and our students are going to be better off socially because of play,” said Sutton.