Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Power and Purpose of PLAY!

Those of you who know me, know that I am a huge fan of free choice time and learning through play.  I was thinking of naming this post Play: What is it Good For? Absolutely Everything! I believe in the power and purpose of PLAY.  I have talked about it a hundred times  once or twice, and even made a Prezi with some of my favorite quotes about the importance of play. 

The power of play is its ability to incorporate so many varied learning opportunities into what appears to be and feels like fun because, it IS FUN!  That is POWER.

The purpose of play is probably deeper than any of us realize- whether you are four or ninety four. Play keeps our brain and body active and energized.  Play allows us to experiment and learn in a non-threatening way.  Play lets us experiment, explore, laugh, and enjoy life and learning.  To me, you can't get more powerful and purposeful learning than that.

So why do we feel like we are not "teaching" if we let our kids play?  Why do we feel like those moments of pure joy and authentic learning need to be done behind closed doors, because it's not a paper/pencil worksheet activity?  Why do we feel like we have to explain the fact that we allow our children to play?  I don't get it.

My superintendent visited my classroom on the night of Open House.  I had just gotten a new Smart TV (80 inch beautiful Sharp TV!), and he wanted to know how it was working out.  I showed him some things that we do with the TV, but then, I took him right back to housekeeping and showed him how my last group at Free Choice had asked if they could please make housekeeping pretty for the night.  They set the table by laying a pretty scarf out for the table cloth, then putting each different color plate, cup, and silverware on the right spot on the place mat, setting the high chair and baby right by the table with a bottle and food, and finally, putting a bowl with play food fruit in the middle of the table.  It was just precious.  To me, that just spoke volumes.  The children were so proud of their classroom and wanted it to look as nice as they could make it.  They knew just what they wanted to do to make it look special.  They were so proud. And  I was more proud of that than I was of the new television.  I wanted him to see how special their idea was to my children and what matters when you are five.

This may be where some of my love of child's play comes from.  I started thinking about some of the things I played when I was little. Off the top of my head, here are some of those things:

Post Office- My parents saved all of their junk mail for me. I made lots of mailboxes to mail it in, sorted it, stamped it with a stamper, and sold "stickers" as stamps.

Librarian- Every one of the books in my bedroom had two library cards in it - one for the person who checked the book out (mom and dad, bless their hearts) and one for me to stamp and file.

Sunday School- with my stuffed animals all lined up to sing hymns

School-Literally until I was in  highschool because I remember coming home and "teaching" geometry on the blackboard to pretend people...  As I write this, I'm thinking I needed friends...

Waitress- I would set up tray tables, put on my apron with a pocket for my real order pad (with carbon paper for double copies, of course), get the orders and deliver them with my tray

Bank- My mom would get extra deposit and withdraw slips for me from the bank when she went.  I loved counting and playing with money.  My dad gave me extra checks to play with. I would write them and stamp them just like I saw them do in the bank.

Store- I pretend sold anything I could get my hands on and bagged it up in bags with a receipt.

Office- I made computers out of big washer/dryer boxes. I designed them with little shoots to send money down and a slot for people (AKA mom and dad) to slip questions in for me. I was inside with a flashlight, writing answers and sending them back out to them. I was so ahead of my time...

Cooking Shows- I played cooking show before cooking shows were even cool.  I loved to bake, and would talk through my recipes like I was teaching someone.

 and of course Vet, Doctor, Police Woman (Charlie's Angels influence... ) you name it, I played it.

This probably explains why I am such a fan of watching the children explore different jobs and take on different roles through play. I'm not even sure if I am really a teacher, or if I'm just playing one every day!  

Here are a couple centers that I had out this week, just to show  you some of the great learning that goes on during free choice time. 

My kids are having so much fun with the Vet Center.  They make appointments, take care of the sick pets, weigh and measure the pets, feed them, and write a report about each pet they take care of. They talk to each other (kindly) and ask about the pet to find out the pet's name and what's wrong.  Then, they "diagnose" a problem and solve it.    I love, love, love that it is so real to them.  I love authentic learning.  

All you need are some stuffed animals or beanie babies, a doctor kit or two, some paper and pens, and some old phones if you want (for taking appointments, of course...).  I found some great scrubs at the Salvation Army that the kids love! 

Here is the little vet sheet that I made for the kids to use.  I have clip boards for them to use or just these sheets on the table so they can write about the pets they see. If you would like a copy, just click the picture below!

One of my little sweeties left these vet slips on my desk after free choice, and obviously there was lots of work to be done on those pets!

"Susie Lauren" is in bad shape because she needs to 'use every tool in the whole world!' "
I love  "puttin pressure in and stitch and put a bandaid."

 Kitty Liposuction apparently

I just love walking around, asking questions, and observing as the children play.   They talk together so politely and try to sound so grown up.  They explain things to each other.  They say please and thank you.  They take turns. They ask each other questions and actually listen to the response.  They put themselves into roles that are different for them, and get to play that role.

Another fun center was the grocery store. 

For this, I got out our cash registers, filled with real coins (4 quarters, 5 dimes, 5 nickels, 10 pennies and a sheet showing how many of each to be sure we ended up with that amount at the end), coin pictures and values on the wall just for a fun reference, boxes of food with prices on them in case some children want to use them, bags, baskets, old credit cards and gift cards- and really not much more! The fun part is that you can be as simple or fancy as you want.

Here is a little video of this picture in action.  At the end, she is looking at the coins on the wall to figure out what she has.

Another center that we always have fun with is our environmental print block play center! The conversations, team work, cooperation, planning, and engineering that happen while having so much fun is such a satisfying way to watch children learn.  We take it a step farther with some environmental print, and some days even writing about what we built or played during block time.  These blocks are also a great way for children to make connections to what they do in their lives, and remember stories to write about.  It's also a way for the kids to remember experiences they have had at different stores so they can talk and write about them.
I asked each child to tell me a favorite store.  I found a picture on Google images, printed it out, and taped it onto a block. It was really easy to do- but if you want to try this and want it to be even easier, HERE are the pictures that I used, so you can try them in your classroom! First I tried sticking the pictures on the blocks with clear contact paper, but that didn't stick well.  I used clear packing tape, and that has worked really well.  The pictures are protected and have stayed on the blocks.

My boys LOVE their police officers and their farms. 

To go along with these fabulous stores, restaurants, and places, we needed some people.  I made cardstock paperdolls of each child. They stand up really well using a big binder clip.  We use these in the beginning of the year for learning names, for attendance, and for beginning graphing.  Now we are using them for block play.  They last pretty well. I just made some new ones.  I didn't laminate them. I probably should have, but if someone bends, I just print out a new copy.  I'd love to print out a new me when I find a wrinkle, but... it doesn't quite work the same.

I always try to let the leader of the day do something extra special for me.  They love to help so much.  So, I let the leader of the day take my picture for this paperdoll. It was a big mistake  fun for him to do.  I had to laugh when they played library the other day.  I also had a picture of our librarian.  She was with the kids in the library they built, and I was WAY in the other corner of the rug "back in the classroom" until I picked them up. They love to play with the Special Area teachers- and (gasp) the PRINCIPAL!

I put some guided reading books out with this center, too- so they can read at the is that for sneaking in more reading!
my library blocks

These cuties made a mall! (With a barn on the top floor, I am noticing...)

The kids also love building with our sight word cardboard blocks!
This is our School Center. 
I have three bins that I switch out during the week.  Even changing the items in the bin a little bit makes it new for the kids.  Sometimes I add red pens, clipboards, rekenreks, ten frames, dry erase boards...Anything that you use as a teacher is just perfect!  These are some of my bins:

 Sight Words/Letter Bin
(large magnetic sight words, a slinky to stretch words, magnetic letters, pointers, vowel chart, and some sentence strip questions)

 Reading Bin
(reading strategy beanie babies, big books, pointers, sentence strips to read, reading phones, word finders, and the class library on the rug)

 Math Bin
(magnetic shapes for patterns, graphing, word problems, magnetic numbers, flash cards, color word and picture magnets, shapes, magnetic squares for patterns

Sometimes I pair the children up in their groups, and other times I let them just figure things out. 
 (I love  how the third sentence is upside down... I'm sure they are probably practicing some concepts about print "find the mistake thing"  right?! )

 I really did  love how he went right over to teach his "class" the rules.  Good boy!

 The girls were so serious.  My boy with 2 listening phones up to his ears... not so much...  The teacher looks annoyed. She has mastered the "teacher look."

 They even took the babies to school!

Thank you so much for stopping by and seeing some of our centers. Have a wonderful week!


  1. Oh Carolyn! This is WONDERFUL! I loved reading this. The whole time I was saying, "YES!" And the letter from Play was the best. I want to send that home! Happy weekend! I'm going to go play in my garden!

  2. Excellent post! There is so much research and evidence to support this, and yet it keeps getting pushed out of schools. I will definitely share this post. Also, I am amazed that you had that interaction with your superintendent. I don't think I have ever seen my superintendent in person. I'm so glad to hear that there are still places where this approach is valued.
    Deb @Not very fancy in 1st

  3. Brilliant blog post! Wonderfully purposeful play based learning! Great activities and learning opportunities for the children. Real and relevant, well done Carolyn!

  4. What a WONDERFUL blog post!! I am so on the same page as you. I am afraid that my new principal does not agree, but I am going to share your post and play letter anyway.

    Terri Izatt

  5. Yeah, learning through fun activities is a great way. My Phoenix pre-k students love playing games and I always use those games to teach them new educational things. Anyways, thanks for sharing this wonderful article!

  6. Really thanks for sharing this useful post . This post is very informative . keep sharing .

    Daycare Auckland


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