Recent news continues to highlight the increasing demands on teachers, students and families during the first year of school. Kindergarten is the "New First Grade" has been said many times during the past few years, however increased academic expectations can be met with developmentally appropriate instructional strategies…play included. The benefits of play in the new first grade are seen throughout a child’s day in multiple domains.
1. Development of the whole child. Play-based activities reach a wide scope and sequence of skills. From critical thinking to problem solving skills-students have a very concrete and motivating way to learn the foundation skills that will support their learning K-12 and beyond.
2. Reaches the diverse learning styles of our students. Play is a universal language. I have observed students of all native languages interact together at a sensory table with water and sink/float activities. We don’t always need our words to learn-but for our students who thrive in modes of learning that incorporate kinesthetic and visual activities- play can be the spark that supports more meaningful understanding of concepts.
3. Opportunities for development of oral language skills. So much research has come out in regards to the importance of meaningful talk time for our early learners. Playful learning offers intentional opportunities for students to enhance their vocabulary skills, while having student models and teacher facilitation of conversations.
At the Woodson Kindergarten Center in Austin Minnesota every classroom has a daily ‘play center’ time built into their schedule, and we have two dedicated play center spaces children can access. The building Play Center Committee works every month to rotate themes, materials and communicates with all teachers in regards to how these tools can be used to enhance the instructional day of students. From Lego walls, to dress up stations students can still incorporate play in the new 1st grade.
Our teachers incorporate play in so many ways at Woodson-some of which include:
weekly time in the greenhouse/outdoor classroom
interactive learning centers based on interests of students
materials of play integrate throughout the day
technology integration that empowers students to create their own learning activities
brain-based motor activities (SMART, GoNoodle, Mindfulness) that support play, learning and self-regulation.
So, yes, we may have a new 1st grade - but as a leader of early learners it is so critical to remember the important role of play in every student’s day.
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