Honestly, we hear this a lot. We are told on all sides to let kids be kids.
Let them play and explore. But we are really bad at putting this into practice. Instead, we…
Give kids a tablet/TV to watch (this is not play)
Expect them to sit quietly for long periods of time (most schools, church, in the car, etc.)
Overload them with activities (gymnastics, basketball, football, piano, dance, etc.)
Overwhelm them with options (ALL the toys)
Now, all of these things are not bad in and of themselves. However, we truly have to be aware of how often we are doing these things...especially in the classroom. I get it. Teachers have a ton of requirements to meet. It can often feel like you have to utilize every second of every day with instruction in order to meet all the requirements. However, it is so important that we make time for play in the classroom.
I want you to put yourself in the shoes of your students for a few minutes.
You woke up this morning, earlier than you wanted to...you were hustled to get dressed, eat breakfast, and make it to the bus in time. Then, you got to school. You maybe had a few minutes to talk to your friends in the hallway before being shooed into your classroom. Once in the classroom, you sit down and start on your morning work. Your teacher starts the first subject of the day. You listen quietly, do your work, and count down the time until lunch so you can have a break. This pattern continues all day, until finally it’s time to go home. But wait! You have to do your homework before you can go play. So, you sit at the kitchen table for an hour to finish all your homework. Now, it’s 5 o’clock and you have an hour until dinner. After dinner, you have another hour before you take a bath and get ready for bed.
Now, many of us may feel like we are in this same kind of drudgery in our jobs. I’ve been there. That is what I hear people use to justify the current education system. “Well, they are going to have to deal with that in their job. They need to get used to it.”
Really? We hate this kind of routine. Yet, we expect our kids to do this day in and out, and “get used to it?” We wonder why there are so many behavior problems in class. Parents wonder why their child has so much energy when they just need a break.
The truth is...we are creating this cycle. We are putting children into a pattern of boredom and drudgery. Then, we punish them for having too much energy and acting out.
But there is a better way! We can “let our kids be kids.”
We can give students the opportunity to play and explore, instead of sitting and studying all day. Now, I know many teachers aim to make their learning activities fun, to make them into games. However, this isn’t the only way play can be incorporated into the classroom.
The best kind of play for kids is imaginative, free play. We want children to explore the world around them in their own way, at their own pace. This gives them a complete mental break from all the expectations placed on them during the school day. It allows students to relax and unwind for a few minutes.
When children play independently or with one another, they are leading the activity. The children determine how to play, the rules of the play, and so much more. They are building social skills, life skills, and even some academic skills as they explore and play.
So, how can you incorporate play without losing your instructional time? Here are a few tips (some may work in your class, while others don’t):
Make one of your centers rotations free play time.
Instead of having students complete morning (busy) work, let them play for 15 minutes.
Whenever you are using manipulatives for an activity, give the students 5 to 10 minutes of free play with those manipulatives.
Build a 10 minutes transition time between subjects into your schedule. Allow students free time during this transition.
Allow students 15 minutes of free play at the end of the day.
You don’t have to give a huge chunk of time for students to play. Simply carve out 10 minute sections throughout the day to allow them a little rest and freedom.