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5 tips for play-based learning

Some of my favorite fieldwork experiences while getting my teaching degree were in the 3 and 4 year old preschool rooms. Kids at this age are so honest and unfiltered – plus they are just a TON of fun! My favorite place to interact with the students was the dramatic play center. It was so neat to see the students spin a web of make believe and get to revisit my childhood and participate myself.

That being said, “play” has been getting a bad rap in recent years. Standardized testing can start as early as kindergarten and our little ones are being encouraged to become “scholars” before their time. Play is essential to the development of children. It provides valuable opportunities for learning social, emotional, cognitive and motor skills. The benefits of play-based learning have been well documented through research in recent years, but not all play is created equal.

So how do we ensure that our children are getting the right kind of play? Here are 5 tips for setting up rich play experiences for your children:

Learning to Play and Playing to Learn

1. Create a Rich Environment
This doesn’t mean buying out Toys ‘R Us – just make an effort to arm your child with a variety of different “props” for their pretend play. Save cereal boxes and tin cans to play grocery store. Or keep around small pads of paper for playing restaurant. The right toys allow your child to master new skills without adult intervention.

2. Allow Ample Time
If you see your child engrossed in play, try not to interrupt. Children need time to sort out the “rules” of their game (especially if other little ones are involved). Don’t cut them short before they have time to fully engage.

3. Ask Questions and Introduce New Vocabulary
Find out what your child is thinking by asking questions about the game. (Just make sure you’re a participant in the game and not just a nosy mom or dad.) When you reply to you child, take the opportunity to introduce applicable vocabulary to their game. Your modeling will soon make its way into their vocabulary as well!

4. Engage Your Children in Everyday Experiences
Tired of playing the same princess game over, and over… AND OVER? Give you child some new ideas by engaging them in everyday experiences. Talk to them about the construction going on at a nearby building or the airplanes you hear above your house. Don’t be surprised if you’re playing pilot in no time!

5. YOUR Participation
One of the best ways to create a rich play experience is to actively participate with your child. Don’t be afraid to act silly – chances are you’ll love it as much as your child :)

So the next time you pass a noisy classroom or see an epic display of make believe, just think of all the brain power going on!

Your Turn:

Do you have any tips to add to the list?
What was your favorite make believe to play as a child?
My sister and I played restaurant and library ALL the time :)


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