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Posts Tagged ‘Learning through Play’

More Than Just Fun and Games: What Children Can Learn from Playing Games

child playing board game with parent

By Helen Hadani, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

After sheltering in place for several months, many families are digging deep into their closets and garages for games that haven’t seen the light of day for months or even years. For families with young children, classic games like Chutes and Ladders, Go Fish and Candyland are fun ways to enjoy family time, but they also promote important social skills, including taking turns and sharing, and academic skills, such as counting, color matching and comparing numbers.  

By definition, games include rules. Remembering those rules requires working memory (the part of our memory that allows us to hold and mentally manipulate information in our minds), and following rules often requires self-control. For example, children have to resist the urge to touch their toes when playing Simon Says unless they hear the magic words “Simon says.” Similarly, in the classic outdoor game Red Light, Green Light, children need to exhibit self-control and only run fast when they hear “green light.” Even just waiting until it is your turn can be hard! 

Simple card games like Go Fish, Old Maid and Crazy Eights involve matching suits or numbers, which promotes early math skills. When children roll dice or use a spinner to determine the number of spaces they should move, they have an opportunity to practice counting. In fact, researchers have found that playing a number-based board game like Chutes and Ladders can improve preschoolers’ numerical knowledge and skills. 

Games are meant to be sources of entertainment and joy (and they bring out the competitive side in some of us), but research shows that some games can also promote cognitive and social skills.  

Don’t worry if your children ask to play their favorite game more times than you want to count – they are learning along the way as they get to that last spot on the board! 

How to Set Up a Child’s Room for Playful Learning

a photo of a preschool child's bedroom

By Lee Scott, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Setting up a child’s room can be so much fun, but it can also be overwhelming. Don’t worry – you likely already have more than you need. Do not stress over how educational each toy is or feel like you need to fill up the room. I recall my nephew as we were setting up his room. He lined up all his trucks on a shelf and announced, “Auntie Lee, just leave the blocks and trucks. You can sell the rest.” He was four.

The two most important things are safety and fun. The learning part will come as your child explores, imagines and plays. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Use colorful bins or tubs and sort toys your child can easily access;
  • Create a reading nook by placing books on a low shelf or bin. Add a soft place to curl up and read;
  • Place a small plastic mirror on the wall at ground level – it’s a wonderful addition for infants and toddlers;
  • Add art and science or math spaces in an area that can be made messy and then easily cleaned up again. For art projects, have a variety of papers, paints, crayons and other materials on hand. For math and science discovery, measuring cups, bowls, rulers, dried foods like pasta and even food scales are wonderful resources for hands-on learning;
  • Think about what toys are safe for your children at their current age levels. Place those within easy reach and let your children dump them out and play away;
  • Create a dramatic arts area where your children can dress up, play pretend and use recycled food items to expand their understanding of the world around them;
  • Add new items and rotate older ones out occasionally. Later, bring some of the older ones back;
  • Blocks, puzzles, board games and stacking toys are always a hit;
  • Introduce new toys one at a time and add items that might give your children a challenge. For example, if they can do a 10-piece puzzle, add a few 15-to-20-piece puzzles into the mix;
  • You don’t have to create a designated space for technology since it should enhance other learning experiences. Instead, take a tablet outside for a photo or video-making session, help your child create an e-book in your reading nook or look up steps to create a robot in your science area;
  • Avoid clutter as it can be overwhelming and inhibits creativity and exploration.

Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun as you set up this space, and be sure to keep an eye out for what fun learning experiences your children have there!

Keep Outdoor Play Simple: Let Nature Supply the Learning.

Dad and two small preschool children going on walk outside on a path

Daily walks or time spent outdoors have recently become part of many families daily routines as the benefits of time spent outdoorsincluding lowering stress levels and combating hyperactivity, are being experienced firsthand. As such, many parents and caretakers are looking for guidance on worthwhile outdoor activities for their children that don’t require a lot of planning or supplies. Below are some ideas for simple, quality outdoor activities that you and your children can do together that don’t require supplies or much planning. 

Activity One – Taking a Walk Outside 

Taking a walk may seem too simple to have any real benefits, but it has many. It is a great gross motor and physical activity for the whole family, especially those still perfecting their walking skills. Even for older children, taking a walk on uneven ground such as over roots in a wooded area or through a park with slopes, arched bridges or hills provides excellent opportunities to practice coordination and helps them learn to navigate varying terrains safely 

Activity Two – Counting Natural Items 

Head outside to your backyard, a nearby park or natural space. Have your children pick an item that they can see more than one of, such as trees, flowers, rocks or even wildlife. Have your children count how many of each item that they see. For infants, talk about what you see and count out loud to them. Older children may even want to practice adding or subtracting the numbers that correlate to different natural items. 

Activity Three – Watching Clouds  

Find an outdoor space with a clear view of the sky. Lay in the grass or on a blanket and ask your children what they see in the clouds. Point out anything that you see in the clouds. Does one cloud look like a dog and another like a tree? Ask your children what they know about whatever they see in the clouds to help develop their critical thinking skills, and identify areas of interest that you can explore together 

Activity Four – Taking a Thankful Walk 

Take a walk around your yard or community and point out natural items that you are thankful for to your children, such as I am thankful for the trees because they provide shade for us on hot, sunny daysI am thankful for the grass because it gives us a soft place to sit outside or I am thankful for the sun because it helps all of the plants to grow. Then ask your children to point out what they see around them that they are thankful for, and why. Depending on what your children point out, you can dive deeper into any topics that they show interest in and help them think critically about the natural world around them.  

Even the simplest of outdoor activities can have numerous benefits for both you and your children. Use your time spent outdoors as a chance to relax and enjoy some quality time together while the learning happens naturally 

Rorie Wells M.A., CPSI 

Education Facilities Specialist – Playgrounds 

Independent Moments Three

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When you need a moment or two and you’d like your child to do something fun, ask your child to try one of these instant playful learning activities.

1. Puzzled

Make your own puzzles with pictures from magazines or mailers. You can cut them up into pieces, mix up the pieces and put the pictures back together. To make the puzzles sturdier, you can glue the pictures to paper before you cut them up. How many pieces will you make?

You’ll need scissors, old magazines or flyers.

Learning Areas – Design, mathematics and fine motor skills

2. How Long Is It? How Wide Is It?

Measure things in the house using unusual units of measurement, such as your feet or arms. How many arms long is the table? How many feet is it to the door from the couch? Make a chart with your new measurements.

You’ll need paper and a pencil for your chart.

Learning Areas – Mathematics, cognitive flexibility and writing skills

3. You Have a Seat at the Table

Make personalized placemats for everyone in the family.

You’ll need paper and crayons. Using paint, markers and colored pencils can be fun, too.

Learning Areas – Print knowledge, vocabulary and creativity

Independent Moments Two

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When you need a moment or two and you’d like your child to do something fun, ask your child to try one of these instant playful learning activities.

1. Who Is That?

Make a funny character using a paper lunch bag.

You’ll need a paper bag, paper and crayons or markers.

Learning Areas – Creativity, social-emotional development and fine motor skills

2. My Room

Make a colorful nameplate for your bedroom door. You can add dimension with paper cut-outs glued to the nameplate.

You’ll need cardboard, tape and markers. You can also use crayons or colored pencils.

Learning Areas – Writing skills, creativity and fine motor skills

3. What Is That?

Take an upside-down picture or a close-up of a familiar object. What is it? Try this with a single category of objects, such as pieces of furniture or toys. Print the images or share them with your family members and ask them to guess what is in the pictures.

You’ll need a camera or a smartphone.

Learning Skills – Observation, cognitive flexibility, creativity

Independant Moments

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When you need a moment or two and you’d like your child to do something fun, ask your child to try one of these instant playful learning activities.

1.Fruit Face

Make a face with fruits and vegetables on a paper plate. Will the face be happy, sad or silly?

You’ll need a paper plate and some cut-up food items. Take a picture of your child’s creation, and then enjoy the snack.

Learning Areas – Creativity, social-emotional development and healthy habits

2. Handy Animals

Turn an outline of a hand into a zany animal. Make more animals with outlines of your fingers or thumbprints.

You’ll need paper, crayons, markers and your imagination. Take a picture, and share it with family members and friends.

Learning Areas – Fine motor skills, creativity and biology

3. Does It Fly?

Create something out of paper and cardboard that will fly. You can decorate it, too. Try making two things and testing which one flies the farthest.

You’ll need paper, cardboard, crayons, markers and scissors.

Learning Areas – Engineering, creativity and invention

Tips for Engaging Your Child in Independent Play

balancing-working-from-home-with-children

Juggling work and childcare full time at home is a new and challenging task for many parents. By engaging their children in independent play, parents can have time to complete their own tasks while their children are using their imagination to practice executive function skills and problem-solving skills. The following steps can set up parents and children for independent play success.

Step One – Picking a Place for Independent Play

Depending on your children’s age, pick a space where they can play safely and independently. For younger children, you may want to start with a space that is easily within sight and reach, but older children may be able to be in their own rooms or private spaces. You should check the space for any potential hazards, such as sharp edges or objects, and ensure that any large furniture is safely anchored.

Step Two – Choosing Materials

Look around your home for loose parts that are age-appropriate for your children. Loose parts are found, bought or upcycled materials that children can move, manipulate, control and change within their play, such as buckets, balls, cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes, blocks, Legos, ramps and tracks. You can even set up bins or stations that hold each type of loose parts, which will allow you to easily exchange them or mix and match different items every couple of days or on the weekends to keep your children interested and engaged in their play.

Step Three – Introducing Materials

If you or your children are feeling unsure of how to engage with the loose parts, you can start with simple, open-ended challenges:

  • Build a tower using two or more of the materials;
  • Create a maze that you can roll a ball through;
  • Demonstrate stacking or nesting cups, putting balls or objects into cups and dumping them into other containers (for younger children).

Once your children are engaged with the materials, take a step back and let them lead their play. This provides the opportunity for you to focus on your tasks for the day while your children are engaged. Keep in mind that at first it may take some time for children who are not used to independent free play to stay focused but try to refrain from micromanaging the play, and instead continue suggesting open-ended challenges and let your children complete them independently.

Step Four – Discussing Play Reflections

The end of your children’s free playtime or the end of the day are great times to talk with your children about what they did during their independent free playtime. You can start by asking your children what they did or what they built during their free playtime. Do your best not to make assumptions about what any item your children created is supposed to be. Let them explain it to you. Wait until after your children have shown or told you what their creation is. This will be the perfect time to ask questions about it and engage them in some critical thinking and language practice.

To get your children looking forward to and planning for their next chance to engage in independent play (and your next chance to complete some tasks of your own), ask them about what they might build or create tomorrow and help them locate any additional loose parts they may need.

How to Make Cardboard Tube Animals


You can make these adorable cardboard tube animals with items most people already have around the house. While this tutorial provides instructions for making an owl, a cat and a dog, the possibilities are endless!

Materials

  • Paper tubes (toilet paper tubes are the perfect size)
  • Yarn or shoelaces in assorted colors
  • Paper scraps
  • Googly eyes
  • Glue dots
  • Scissors
  • Markers

Instructions

  1. If you are using a larger tube, cut it down to the size of a toilet paper tube. Push down the top edge. Add a glue dot to the edge before folding down and securing the other top edge. This will make your animal’s ears.
  2. Secure the end of a piece of yarn or a shoelace to the bottom edge of the tube with a glue dot. Then, wrap the tube about three-quarters of the way up the tube, leaving enough room to make a face. Secure the other end of the yarn or shoelace with a glue dot.
  3. Cut out pieces of scrap paper to make additional animal parts.
  • To make an owl, cut out two wings, a beak and two colorful circles where the googly eyes will go;
  • To make a cat or a dog, cut out four paws, a nose and a tail.
  1. Glue the paper pieces and googly eyes onto your creation. Then, use the marker to draw any finishing touches, like whiskers or smiles.

Interactive Songs and Fingerplays

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by Lee Scott, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Interactive songs and fingerplays are part of every infant, toddler and preschool teacher’s repertoire. If you think back, I bet you can name a few such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “The Wheels on the Bus.” Several parents have reached out to us and asked where they can find good interactive songs and when they should start singing these with their child.

The time to start is anytime. Interactive songs and fingerplays can start as soon as your infant is born. Singing, as well as talking and reading, support your child’s brain development, and this is especially important in the first 1000 days. It is also a great tool to help increase bonding with your child. The interactive songs help you to hold eye contact, view facial expressions and connect with your child. Research from the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child has found that “when an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills.” Singing simple songs supports these interactions.

Repeating the songs over and over also supports language, working memory and social-emotional development. Who knew these funny little songs could do so much? Think about what “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” (and “three, four, shut the door”) teaches – math, sequencing, self-care and more. These simple chants and songs are powerful learning tools.

Here are three of my favorite resources my colleagues at The Goddard School have shared with me to help you get started:

  1. Super Simple Songs – This site has all the songs you will remember from childhood and more.
  2. Songs for Teaching – We like the helpful list of fingerplays.
  3. Let’s Play Music – They offer many free songs and no ads.

You can also make up your own. Sing about what you are doing as you feed or bathe your child. The most important thing is to enjoy the fun and giggles with your little one.

 

Winter Scavenger Hunt

a-little-boy-bundled-up-in-warm-winter-clothes_t20_k6z229

Your local park can be a magical winter wonderland that is perfect for playful learning. Create a scavenger hunt for your family to enjoy while exploring nature. You may decide to separate into teams and see how many items you can each check off before your opponents.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Animal tracks;
  • Hidden berries;
  • Icicles (Only adults should handle icicles. they can be very sharp!);
  • Human footprints;
  • A leaf still on a tree;
  • A tree with no leaves;
  • Something green;
  • A pinecone;
  • A bird;

You can modify your list depending on the ages of the children. Enjoy the endless possibilities!