Let Them Play!

Here’s a quick summary of my day: two indoor recesses followed by two assemblies. Need I say more? 🙂 My students were fantastic, but it was a lot of sitting time with not enough outdoor time included, so when the second assembly ended with 15 minutes until we had to get ready for home, I had a decision to make. It’s my scheduled computer lab period: do I skip my trip to the lab, go up to the lab and explain an activity for the students to do, or go up to the lab and give the students some “free choice time?” I decided on the last option. I knew how hard it would be for me to sit and listen to instructions at the time, so I figured that my students were feeling the same way.

I’ve put all kinds of activities in Desk Tools, so I thought that I would let the students login, go into Desk Tools, and make their choice. I’m so glad that I did! It was incredible!

Some students logged into our Commons Blog and wrote new posts. One Grade 1 student even managed to publish his post. Another couple of students commented on blog posts. A group of students went to the Starfall Website and started reading books. They decided to read them in a little group and help each other with the difficult words: it was almost like a mini-guided reading group led by the students.

The majority of the students decided to go onto Google Earth. I don’t know which person is responsible for putting Google Earth on our new Board image, but I can’t thank you enough! The students were problem-solving like I’ve never seen them do before:

  • Students were reading off of each other’s uniform shirts to spell the school name, and then looking for the school together. With each other’s help, they all found it too.
  • Students were typing their addresses into the search bar and finding their houses and the houses of their friends. They were figuring out how to get from their house to their friends’ houses and to the school. They were even giving each other directions, using directional language in a meaningful context.
  • Students were searching places where they visited on vacation. They were helping each other spell the names of the different locations, and watching as they traveled around the world.

As far as the students were concerned, they were playing, but as the teacher watching them working, they were definitely learning. This made me realize that as many times as I let the students investigate and explore on their own, I need to continue to give them the opportunities to “play.” I love when they surprise me by coming up with even better activities than I could have planned on my own!

When have you let your students just “play?” What were the results? I’d love to hear your experiences too!



12 thoughts on “Let Them Play!

  1. I’m only a student teacher finishing a B. Ed. degree, but from the VERY limited opportunities I’ve had to observe students playing it seems like they are frequently using free play to learn. The things that your students started doing on their own are awesome activities, and when I start my practical semester in a week I’m going to try a few of them on the kids, and see what they can come up with on their own. Thanks for the post, it gave me a great insight and a few good ideas.

    • Thanks Graham! Glad you found the post helpful. I hope that your students enjoy these activities too. If you have any questions about them, please just let me know.


  2. Aviva, we talk about this all the time in my class. One thing we have discovered however is that the term ‘play’ of course has very negative connotations for various different people involved in schooling. That’s why I’ve had the students make a conscious effort to use the word ‘explore’ instead. I don’t usually like using euphemisms in the name of political correctness, but I find that ‘play’ has been misappropriated to the point where it’s very difficult to get over some of its negative connotation.

    “Is it time for us to explore, Mr. Lee?”

    “Yes it is, Sydney:)”

    • Wow Royan! I never really thought about how changing the word “play” to “explore” can really change the way that people see the same activity. It’s very true though. Hmmm … you have me thinking here! The next time we go to “play,” I’m going to say that it’s time to, “explore,” and I’m going to thank my friend Mr. Lee for that. 🙂 Thanks Royan!


  3. I think what you did was provide a unstructured/unplanned time for the students to learn. Too often we tell the students which apps to use, what to read and what to write. I’ve wondered why classroom library is the most popular work station choice in my classroom. It has to do with the fact it’s completely driven by student choice. I’m now reflecting and wondering how build more purposeful choice into my other work stations.

    My students have been asking for some time to explore the other apps on the iPad. Tomorrow is Halloween and I’ve carved out an hour for our students. In that hour our learning intention will be to work in partners or small groups to have conversations and co operate with each other. The students will have access to all the tech tools in the classroom, blocks, marble run, board games, crafts and books. I’m interested to observe the rich conversations that will occur tomorrow during this hour.
    Thanks for a post that has me thinking and reflecting on how we structure our learners time.

    • Thanks Angie! I’m sure that your students will love this learning time tomorrow, and I can’t wait to hear how it goes! I’ve been trying to work in more and more student choice in my various work stations, and I’m finding it to be very successful. Students do love having this ownership over their learning, and it’s amazing what they can do … even at such a young age! Thanks for getting me thinking about just what other kinds of “choice activities” I can provide for the class!


  4. Hi Aviva,

    I am constantly thinking about our definition of play, so, I checked it in the dictionary (my dictionary app on my ipad) to see what is framed there– definitions included the following:

    A space in which something (as part of a mechanism) can move
    Freedom of movement within a space
    Freedom for action, scope for activity
    Brisk light or changing action
    An enterprise or venture

    So, if we go back to the phrase ‘play- based learning’, with the above definitions in mind, the learning that happens moves within a space to lesser or greater degrees depending on how the mechanism (learning/ learning environment) is structured or designed. The freedom for action, scope of activity and venture or enterprise that arise are directly linked to how “locked down structures might be”. Little movement might mean there is no flexibility in the materials,structures, processes and conversely, too much movement might mean too loosely structured processes and materials that stretch or “give” too much to the point that they do not hold their shape or integrity of design. Play, then becomes the delicate balance of how to action structures, materials and processes within this “mechanism” we call learning and not the thing we seem to associate is with–“entertainment, jest or fun as opposed to seriousness ( which are other definitions of the word play).

  5. Karen, this is very interesting indeed. You give me a lot to think about here. I’d be curious to know how others define “play” too. It’s too bad that this word seems to hold such negative connotations.

    Thanks for your comment!

    • I have to agree again how much I love that fact that the conversation has been derivn by the needs of our students Right now Ann and I are in a unique position with the expectations of a literacy block/math block time frame, prep schedule, numbers of students in our class, and curriculum maps. We are literally creating as we go through this process. As we are in the first year of developing our 3/4/5 Multiage Program we have been trusted to meet the needs of our learners, integrate the content areas, meet the state expectations, and utilize our district’s adopted curriculum and assessments. We are now in the information stage as we are beginning to share specific information regarding our program logistics, instructional practices, and philosophy. So your questions are very relevant and will help me in processing as Ann and I move forward with our future discussions.We attempt to keep to a 90min literacy block, and a 70 minute math block. 2 days a week we have a 70 min prep. And the other days we do not (One or both of us will often choose to spend our 45 min prep on another day with our students). So essentially 3 days a week we have an additional 45 min, and on the other 2 days with have 115 minutes. The days we have no prep are the days we allow for the PBL experiences. We love this schedule. On the days we have a prep we get a lot done during our lengthy planning time. Does amount to exhausting days, but thankfully they usually end up being the most rewarding!I would say that the PBL model could be used with any time block. It’s all about the experience itself, and could easily be used during smaller chunks, but parts could also be integrated into your literacy choice format. We sometimes take half of our literacy block to allow students to work on the Process (research/discovery) portion of their project, or the Product (creation/publishing) portion of their project. They can make a lot of progress in a 40-50 minute time frame. It is ironic that you mentioned your Early Learning Kinder Program. As we developed our program structure/foundation we did a ton of research regarding the brain, retention, engagement, multiage philosophy, social/emotional, and gifted. All the research, in one way, shape or form eluded strategies that continually reminded us of the instuctional practices utilized by our amazing kindergarten teachers. Our classroom is very busy and collaborative, and students all work on personal goals at their level and have frequent choice. We have tables, comfy seats, bean bags, balance boards, etc for students to work comfortably throughout the day. Paper is minimal, but resources and manipulatives are of surplus. We dress in costume, use music & movement often, practice breathing techniques for calm down, provide snack sometimes, and integrate art into our daily routine. Taking on 3 grade levels allowed us to let-go of some of our past routine practices, view things through a different lens, and accept that we needed to adjust learning on a daily basis. Our students have a LARGE voice in our student-learning environment, as we have allowed them to play an intregal role in creating this program. Best choice we ever made They are so thoughtful, insightful, and brilliant!!Thank you for asking me these questions. This is just the processing I needed! It has helped me clear my head and get focused with refining our message- I can’t wait to process further with Ann Your collaboration is always appreciated!~Celina

      • Thanks for your comment, Celina! The information you share here is fantastic. I really like hearing how you’re using this philosophy with junior-aged students as well. You really have me thinking! Can’t wait to hear about how your program evolves next year.


  6. In our board play based learning is defined as “Playful & engaging while being very well planned & purposeful. planning begins with knowing each young learner to allow us to respond with the purposeful assessment & instruction which is differientiated as needed. YRDSB ”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *