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4 Ways Play-Based Learning Supports Student Growth

Olivia Jones
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Those of us who work with children know just how important physical activity and play is for childrens’ physical and mental health! Not only does play help strengthen muscles, it also encourages positive socialization and SEL. 

But despite the benefits of play, it is becoming less common. According to a USC study released in October, 66% of parents with children aged 9 to 13 say their kids are getting less physical activity compared to pre-pandemic times. Combined with the 50% drop in childhood play in the last 40 years, children are undoubtedly receiving less physical activity than they need.

As educators look for new ways to engage students in the learning process after a tumultuous year of pandemic life, play-based learning is a great option to make the learning process more fun and memorable. Let’s take a look at the types of play educators can incorporate into the classroom. 

Types of Play

Active Play

Active play combines playful games with physical activities like running, jumping, chasing, and climbing. Physically active play comes naturally to children and is extremely beneficial for their short- and long-term physical development.

Exploratory Play

Another type of playful learning comes in the form of exploratory play, which is play time in which children explore and engage with the objects in their environment. This is one of the types of play that children gravitate toward early in their development. Through exploratory play, children make sense of their world and experiment with symbolism.

The Benefits of Play-Based Learning

Play-based learning is a great tool for increasing student engagement and physical activity, but it’s important to tie it into your lessons and curriculum as well so there are educational benefits. We understand play can sometimes be loud and chaotic, so balancing play with classroom management techniques is key. Here are some of the top benefits for incorporating play-based learning into your classroom:

1. Play-based Learning Enhances Social Skills

When kids play, they get a great opportunity to improve their social skills and problem-solve their way through interpersonal conflict without adult intervention. Left to their own devices, kids often create games to play with one another, combining communication skills and creativity. Most importantly, from playful learning with peers, children internalize social norms and learn how to socialize in a safe and pressure-free environment.

2. Play-Based Learning Promotes Self-esteem

Developing self-esteem is an important part of childhood. Play-based learning promotes self-esteem by encouraging positive, healthy socialization. The time and space to experiment also fosters emotional resilience and creativity, both of which strengthen students’ sense of self and emotional well-being!

3. Play-Based Learning Reduces Stress

Studies have shown that those who make time for play report feeling less stressed than those who don’t make time for play. Play is also linked with a sense of comfort , social connection, and better mental health. 

4. Play-Based Learning Increased Executive Function

Executive function, or a person’s ability to make decisions and function in accordance with their goals, is an important skill that children must learn. Research tells us that physical activity improves executive function in children by cultivating their ability to regulate their excitement and emotional responses. Studies have shown that physical activity improves students’ concentration and even boosts test scores

Despite the significant benefits of play-based learning, we’re still seeing a decline in playful learning and active play. Let’s take a look at how some educators are using a play-based learning approach to combine STEM and physical activity.

How to Implement Play-Based Learning in Your Classroom

There are many ways to incorporate play into your teaching strategies. Here are a few ways that Trish Eddy, a PE teacher from Missouri, uses Unruly Splats to combine coding with play.

Unruly Splats combine active play with coding for kids by getting students to code their own games. Splats are programmable floor buttons and students code Splats to light up, make sounds, and sense when they are stomped on so they can code and play games like relay races and obstacle courses.

Here are a few of the games that Trish Eddy and her class code and play with Splats. 

1. Four corners — an active, playful twist on the classic game!

2. Animal relay — following the basic rules of a relay race, only with the Splats programmed to make animal noises as students achieved benchmarks in the game.

3. Race in Relay — a combination of a relay race game and race in place!

All three of these activities use Splats to teach kids coding skills while also encouraging active play. When we spoke to Trish about how the Splats technology worked in her PE class, she said that “after playing, they looked at the code together and students were able to notice delays, lights, and sounds. They started making connections between their play and block-coding.” So not only do Splats get students engaged in physical activity, they also teach problem-solving and foundational coding skills.

If play-based learning is something you are interested in trying in your classroom, check out our lesson plans for more examples of how to add active play throughout the school day.

Unruly Studios makers of Unruly Splats, programmable, stompable floor tiles that help kids learn fundamental coding skills through recess-style play. Best for elementary and middle school students from PE to science or coding class, a great addition to the classroom for active STEM coding and play!

Learn more about Unruly Splats: https://www.unrulysplats.com/
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