Let's Learn Through Play

Let's Learn Through Play

by Jenine Bennett, M.Ed.

Parents of school-age children have all been in this situation. Your child greets you after school and you ask, “What did you do today?” Your little one smiles and says, “We played!” Depending on your experience with play, your child’s response makes your heart sing or you begin to question the day’s activities. 

In most schools, children have one recess period where the “play” typically occurs. But what if play happened during the school day? And what if it was for extended periods of time? Can children learn through play?

Why incorporate play?

February 4, 2015, was the first annual Global School Play Day in schools around the world. In just five years, this event has gained popularity, and over half a million children participated last year. This year, the hope is that over one million children participate in Global School Play Day on 2/2/22. 

When children have the opportunity to participate in self-directed play, they feel in control. The choice of where to play and what to play with is theirs. They learn to problem solve. Children have to figure out what to do when pieces don’t fit or things don’t make sense. They also learn about different perspectives and how to approach things while thinking about someone else’s point of view. Children show empathy, they learn to cooperate, and they feel comfortable taking risks.

When children play, they are learning, even though the “lesson” may look very different. 

How can you incorporate play?

Think logistically. How can teachers plan for this? Imagine being a teacher with 25 students who are given the freedom to play all day. That might sound like a nightmare, but for teachers who understand the importance of learning through play, this sounds heavenly. 

Benchmark Advance is a curriculum resource for reading and writing in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. This program provides teachers with materials that can easily be incorporated into a day of learning through play. Teachers can set up areas with the following materials, but teachers should give students the flexibility on how to interact with the materials. 

  • Poetry
    Poetry is essential for building phonological awareness, which sets the stage for decoding, blending, segmenting, and word recognition. When interacting with poetry, students play with language and rhyme, observe sentence structure, and have an outlet for sharing feelings. Providing puppets or characters with poems encourages language development, creativity, and social awareness. Poems and poetry posters, like those included in Benchmark Advance, bolster student engagement.

  • Reader’s Theater
    Reader’s Theater encourages reluctant readers and provides opportunities to read with expression. Students engage in active learning while expanding their knowledge and vocabulary. This resource is a favorite for those actors and actresses in your class that love to be dramatic and practice their public speaking skills! Students won’t even know that they are developing fluency, working collaboratively, and increasing their reading confidence. Children may choose to bring stuffed animals or toys into school that can be used as characters in their play! 

  • Read-Aloud Books
    Read-alouds, like the diverse books featured in Benchmark Advance, are a vital component in a classroom. The complex text, rich vocabulary, and engaging illustrations appeal to children of all ages. Incorporate play into your read-alouds by providing students with books and art supplies, and then watch your artists create! Students will extend their comprehension while building their fine motor skills and expressing their thoughts and feelings.

  • Letter Tiles/Picture Cards
    Hands-on manipulatives support visual and kinesthetic learning. When children can move and isolate each sound in a word, multiple modalities help the learning to stick and become more meaningful. For example, for students practicing phonemic awareness and phonics skills, letter and picture cards (like those included in Benchmark Advance) can be paired with modeling clay. Watch projects come alive as students enhance their hand-eye coordination, practice literacy skills, and use their imagination. 

  • Vocabulary
    Rich vocabulary exposure is critical in all grades. When children interact with vocabulary through listening, speaking, reading, and writing, their communication is more effective. For this activity, students can role-play and act things out. Place a set of vocabulary words from a current unit or topic in a dramatic play area. Students may choose to use props to act out the words—a version of charades at school. You will be amazed how discussions may even cross content areas! Through meaningful play, students increase reading comprehension, participate in social interactions, practice self-control, and work on conflict resolution. 

The strategies described provide teachers with options that encourage play, improve social skills, and ignite creativity while addressing the critical areas of reading instruction. Although the lesson plans may look a little different, the lessons learned through play are imperative and long lasting. 


About the Author

Jenine Bennett

Jenine Bennett, M.Ed., is an education professional with years of experience as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, and curriculum specialist in Grades PreK through 6. Jenine encourages student and teacher engagement while increasing academic achievement and becoming life-long learners together.


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