Children are born with natural impulses to explore; play-based learning allows children to learn naturally. They understand their world best through hands-on, sensory-based experiences that allow them to actively participate, get messy, and make meaning of both the familiar and the new.
Group play leads to social interactions, providing opportunities to build social-emotional competence. When they play together, children talk, negotiate, take turns, explain, compromise, practice self-control, and experience shared joy, frustration, and wonder. When conflict arises, children’s play can lead to expressing emotions, problem-solving, flexibility, and higher-level thinking. Play allows non-Anglophone children to develop their English language skills through natural interactions.
These experiences help young children grow into older children and adults who have open-minded, nuanced views of the world.
With the guidance of teachers, play allows children to naturally develop important social-emotional, language and academic skills. They practice social-emotional skills as they take turns sharing materials. They use math skills when they count the items, sort them into categories, and use the materials to create designs and patterns. It’s also a science lesson: using trial and error, they learn about physics when they successfully balance the tower or determine which shapes can roll. They can also sort the animals by their species, habitat or other attributes.
“Play is the highest form of research.” — Albert Einstein
Frequently Asked Questions About Play-based Learning
The answer is a resounding yes! Play-based education doesn’t change what we teach, just how we teach it. Through play, students learn all of the academic skills they will need to begin kindergarten. This includes recognizing letters, using number concepts, writing their names, and more. Studies have shown that play-based learning is more effective at teaching these skills than rote memorization approaches.
Circle Time is a daily opportunity for students to learn and review these concepts through activities such as charting the weather, taking attendance, decoding a morning message, and singing songs with rhymes. Circle Time materials incorporate pictures and text. The children begin to learn to read familiar words, and the teachers use guided reading techniques to help them decode new words as they are introduced.
The difference between play at home and play at IPS is intentionality. Our teachers carefully and purposefully guide the play in the classroom, taking advantage of opportunities to support learning goals. This may be done by asking the children thoughtful questions about their play, modeling appropriate skills, and providing certain types of play materials. The teachers are thoughtful about the types of materials they provide, choosing things that allow for creativity and open-ended play, help children build their fine and gross motor muscles, and encourage language building. For example, most classrooms contain a variety of building blocks made from solid wood, cardboard, and foam, all in different sizes and shapes. This allows for endless avenues of play including stacking, building, measuring, balancing, and more!
Structure is a big part of the school day at IPS. Each day typically follows a schedule posted at the children’s eye level displaying each activity with both picture and text. The schedule is read aloud and discussed each day during Circle time. While students get to make many choices about what they do and how they play, they do so within the safety and familiarity of a daily routine.
Choice Time is an important part of the IPS school day. This is a period when the teachers organize the classroom into a range of centers that are related to current curriculum themes. During a typical Choice Time, children may choose to work at centers such as the writing table, dramatic play, sensory activities, art projects, blocks, and more. A very meaningful aspect of Choice Time is the need to be able to take turns and negotiate. Usually only four children at a time are allowed at each center. What does a child do if the center they want is full? Initially, teachers help the younger children solve this dilemma. As they get older, children learn to work it out for themselves.
If they count the children and realize the center is full, they look around to see which center has room. While playing at their second choice, they may keep a watchful eye on their first choice and make a switch when they see an opening or even ask a classmate to switch places.
This teaches children to be patient and flexible. It also encourages children to interact with many different children. The teachers encourage every student to work at all the different centers.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are many schools in New York where children are taught their letters and numbers by tracing them on worksheets. At IPS, students might learn them by tracing them in at the Sensory Table or by forming them out of blocks in the Blocks Center. Worksheets are passive; in play, children are mentally active.
Our students learn using hands-on opportunities that are meaningful to them. If dramatic play is a restaurant, then children want to write down what their friends are ordering. At the writing center they write letters to family members and friends. They are playing restaurant and post office, but they are strengthening their pencil grip as well!
If a class has a fall “apple” theme, the children will learn scientific facts about the life cycle of the apple tree, taste different types of apples and graph the class preferences, read books about apples and apple picking, draw pictures and dictate comments about apples, follow a recipe to make applesauce, and even do math activities with apples!