Learn through Play: skills and benefits of play in the early classroom

After almost 28 years in the preschool classroom, whenever I tell people that I am a preschool teacher, their response is usually, “Oh, how fun to play with children all day.” Yes, my journey as a preschool teacher has been fun and while there is a lot of play involved, it is so much more than that. Often times people do not realize that preschool "play" does not just mean simply playing. It comes with a lot of intentional planning and implementation to create meaningful learning through play. Learning through play is a concept that students are developing their cognitive, language, social emotional, motor skills, and 21st century skills while they are playing. Students learn while they are just playing, but to enhance and take their learning to a higher level, intentional planning and implementing of the play activities must take place. Play planning requires me to think of what my goals and objectives are, how to introduce the play activity, questions to ask, how to guide them to higher level thinking, and during play, how to look for learning opportunities.
For example, one of their favorite play areas in the classroom is the block center. If you just let them play with no intentional guidance on your part, they may just be building and knocking blocks down, chat about what they are building, and show some creativity in what they are building. However, with intentional planning, you can ask the students to form groups, give them a goal to build - maybe a house if they are learning about houses for letter “h.” This will help them learn to collaborate with others, share creative ideas, put their prior knowledge about houses to practice, and develop communicating skills. Plan leading questions to bring their attention to the concept of colors, shapes, sizes, quantities, comparisons, and other skills. Asking questions that encourages problem solving skills such as: Why did it fall down? How can you make it taller without it falling down? How and why did you choose this design? How much taller is this house compared to the other team’s house? How many blocks did you use? Just in the block center alone, I can teach all components of STEAM. There are endless questions to ask to stimulate their thinking process. 

S-Science – learning about different building materials such as density, type of material: wood, metal, plastic. etc.
T-Technology – Use video clips to show how houses are made and other information about houses. Letting them use the ipad to document their building progress and final product.
E-Engineering – Understanding the concept of building a strong foundation.
A-Art – Demonstrating their creativity in the art of building a house.
M-Math – Learning about sizes, shapes, colors, and quantities.
In the beginning of the school year, we learn about how God created us in His image, how special each one of us is to God, and that He gave us each of us a unique brain that allows us to learn and grow. From that moment on, I make sure my students know that while they are playing, they are using their brain to learn, to ask questions, and to have a flexible mindset that helps them develop a habit of self-learning no matter what the task each and every moment of their lives. As adults, we take those skills that we learned through play as preschoolers to help us navigate through life, continuing to be self-learning individuals and productive citizens. Let us prepare the next generation to “learn through play.”