As many of you know, I was a Kindergarten teacher for 8 years before I moved to Grade 1, and now to a Grade 1/2 class. I loved teaching Kindergarten. When I started teaching it, I thought that I would never move out of it. There were a number of reasons that I chose to change grades, but a bit part of it was the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten (ELK) model. As a Grade 1 teacher last year, I was part of group that offered feedback on the program expectations for the ELK Program, and I had some reservations. Yes, I had some problems with full days of “play.”
Please don’t get me wrong. I have always been a teacher that sees the value in hands-on learning. Up until this year though, my vision of hands-on learning always meant structured play. This hands-on learning was always very teacher-directed, and even though I always differentiated activities, I always did the differentiating. To me, I saw a play-based Kindergarten program as organized chaos, and I couldn’t understand how students would be academically ready for Grade 1. I knew the philosophy behind the ELK Program, but I wasn’t sure that being a part of it was right for me. Even though our school doesn’t have full-day Kindergarten yet, I knew that it was coming, so I thought that it was better to leave before it did.
And then Thursday came along. I had an epiphany on Thursday. As a culminating task for our Structures Unit in Grade 1 and our Simple Machines Unit in Grade 2, I had two different Science activities set-up for the afternoon. The Grade 1’s were working in partners to make a straw, stick, or brick house that would protect the Three Little Pigs from the Big Bad Blowdryer. The Grade 2’s were making a wind-powered car: applying what they learned about wheels and axles. (Please visit the individual student blogs for videos of these activities.) As the students went off to work, I sat back, and I started taking photographs. Then I went around, sat down with different groups of students, asked them questions about what they were doing, and helped them when necessary. The classroom was bustling! There was lots of activity, tons of talk, and all kinds of awesome teamwork. Students were being creative, they were coming up with new ways of solving problems, they were creating some of their own extensions, and they were “playing” while also learning too.
That’s when I knew: students can learn through play. Play doesn’t need to be chaotic, and it doesn’t need to just be screaming, car crashes, and knocking over blocks. Students can direct purposeful play too. They can experiment, they can explore, they can question, and while doing all of this, they can learn. Even with the activities that we did in class, the students drew diagrams of their plans (science and art), labelled their work (writing), and discussed what they would add or change the next time (oral language). They even extended their learning, like this one student, that went home that night and created a video of testing her car at home. She almost created her own advertisement for this car too (media literacy). The possibilities really are endless!
So knowing what I know now, do I want to go back to teaching Kindergarten? No, because I would love to extend the play-based learning that the students are getting in Kindergarten into the early primary grades too. I’m glad that I had this epiphany though, and that I now see things the way that I do.
What do you think about play-based learning? How does play-based learning look in your classroom? How do you want it to look? I would love to know your thoughts!