We cannot overstate the value of play! Play helps students learn and grow, and even helps adults cope with stress. Play is especially important as we all work to find healthy stress management strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused record levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. For children, who have experienced significant disruptions to their education over the past two years, play can be a way to reconnect with fun during in-person learning.
Playful learning uses play as a core strategy to help students grasp concepts, learn information, and explore possibilities. It isn’t a distraction from normal lessons, but rather, lessons that take place in a more hands-on, playful format to keep kids engaged in the learning process.
Playful learning can be especially helpful for students in STEM classes. Traditional STEM education doesn’t fit all learning styles. In this critical period for developing students’ attitudes about their abilities, playful learning strategies can reduce stress and help learning come more naturally.
Use STEM-themed coloring pages to give artistically-inclined students the opportunity to learn STEM concepts in a playful, lighthearted environment. Here are a few free, downloadable resources from TeachersPayTeachers.
Traditional group drawing games like Pictionary or Hangman can be modified to introduce or reinforce STEM concepts.
For older students, you can combine the visual arts with STEM to explore topics like design and architecture. For example, consider an open-ended project in which students design a new school building, complete with building plans and mathematical calculations for costs and materials. If you have access to design programs, visualization technology, or engineering education, any of those would enhance this exercise!
One of the most effective ways to learn is by teaching others. Flip the script on the traditional education model by letting students educate each other through songs or poems they create themselves. For example, teachers can assign scientific or environmental concepts to groups, and each group can come up with song lyrics to teach their peers about the concept. To make it easier and more fun, you can use songs that are popular with your students’ age group.
If students are too young to create songs or poems on their own or in groups, consider a sing-a-long of educational songs that already exist, like Schoolhouse Rock.
Similarly, students can learn by creating educational videos or movies that explain other concepts to their peers. In this way, students practice problem-solving and creativity, deepen knowledge about STEM concepts, and educate themselves about computers and video editing software.
Some of the most memorable learning activities students engage in at school are those that allow them to guide their own education and explore what’s most interesting to them. Assigning something like a science experiment project, while leaving the medium open-ended, lets students play to their strengths. Unruly Splats offers a game called The Found Art Challenge where students find objects around their home or classroom based on what color appears on a piece of code. After running the code 3-5 times, students use their objects to create a found-objects sculpture.
Dance can be a powerful learning tool for students who learn best kinetically. Even for those who learn best in other ways, dance is a great way to stay physically active and take a fun, lighthearted break from all of the sitting and listening that traditional education requires. Engage your students with fun, discipline-specific dances or challenge them to create their own choreography based on what they’ve learned.
When you think of students learning coding concepts, you probably bring a number of preconceived notions about what that process might look like. Older students, sitting in front of desktop computers, learning individually. But with Unruly Splats, coding education is accessible for students of any age, physically active, and built on teamwork. Kelly Thompson, a music teacher from Copperas Cove ISD, uses coding games like Four Corners and Whack-a-Moles with her kindergarten and first grade students to expose them to computer science concepts. Kelly says, "When play is incorporated in our lessons, education comes to life. My students are totally engaged and invested in their learning. They're excited to get to class and begin exploring, coding, and PLAYING!"
Competition is one of the best ways to get kids engaged in the learning process. Educational games are a fun break from focused lessons, while also being an effective tool in student-led learning. Our Splats games are physically active and teach students math and coding fundamentals. Check out our list of free lesson plans.
Trivia-style games are timeless and fun, and they aren’t limited to humanities and social science subjects. Engineering, coding, science, and math educators can also use trivia games to make learning more playful and fun. Whether you create your own Jeopardy game using information relevant to your subject, or you stick with traditional team trivia games, these are bound to be a hit with your students.
Go Bananas! is Unruly Splats’ annual back-to-school stomp challenge. Classrooms across the country compete to stomp and code the most in our physically-active coding games. Go Bananas! and other Unruly community challenges are low-barrier activities that encourage coding throughout the school day.
These playful learning activities will help you get your students engaged in STEM learning, regardless of your subject or the age level you teach. Play is vital to the learning process for young minds, and these games and activities let kids lean into and enjoy their education.