Play Beyond ECE

Jenning Prevatte, M. Ed.

I am a HUGE advocate for play and have written about the power of play-based learning in early childhood. Play is an essential component of the life of young children. It is how they learn about their environment and how the world operates. But why should play stop after early childhood? Don’t students continue to learn through play? I say, yes, they do! A play-based philosophy is starting to be recognized as an essential component of the elementary education classroom. However, play-based philosophy can be integrated into every education level.

Incorporating play-based learning into the classroom can effectively promote creativity, problem-solving, and divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is essentially the process of creating multiple solutions to a problem or generating unique ideas. In our world today, we need divergent thinkers, and as educators, we should create learning environments that support creativity, problem-solving, inquiry, and divergent thinking. From my perspective, play-based philosophy is the most effective way to create a learning environment that encourages the development of these skills.

Let’s take a moment to define play. The Oxford Dictionary defines play as “to participate in” or “to actively engage in for enjoyment.” Now let’s consider the definition of learning, “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or being taught.” (Oxford Dictionary) Now, let’s connect those two concepts. Play-based philosophy is the idea that learning is acquired through a play-based experience that students take part in and engage in for enjoyment. 

Creativity, imagination, problem-solving, and ultimately diverse perspectives and divergent thinking in education are crucial to effective teaching. Integrating play-based activities in education encourages students to engage with the material more creatively and enjoyable, leading to increased retention, understanding of the content, experience in finding solutions to real-world problems, and fosters a growth mindset. All while encouraging students to think outside the box. Therefore, learning is enjoyable when experienced through play-based activities.

Sir Ken Robinson gave an excellent talk on Changing Education Paradigms, discussing divergent thinking. I love the longitude study he examines. The video is 11 minutes and worth watching. In addition, Edutopia published an article back in 2015 on Fueling Creativity in the Classroom with Divergent Thinking by Stacey Goodman. In the article, the author talks about strategies to fuel imagination, creativity, and divergent thinking. The article discussed adding opportunities in your classroom for students to engage in art, music, and inquiry. I agree with all of these and would add engaging in play-based learning activities. No matter what level of education you teach, play is a critical aspect of learning. We are free to decide, choose, and utilize our assets when we engage in play-based learning.

So, in what ways can a play-based philosophy be brought into education?

Here are five ways I recommend integrating play-based learning into your curriculum. 

1. Integrate games, role-playing, and scenarios into learning to encourage divergent thinking, strategic thinking, and problem-solving

2. Integrate project-based or problem-based learning to promote inquiry and creativity

3. Integrate brain breaks and music to release stress and help students refocus 

4. Integrate art and opportunities to create through creative projects, mind maps, drawing, coloring, or making posters

5. Integrate learner-directed choice time where learners can choose play-based activities to promote imagination and creativity

Remember, play is an essential component of life and is not only for young children.

Always remember!
You are talented! You are brilliant!
You connect, engage, and inspire the future!