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The Importance of Play: A Call to Action

Author: Dr. Tim Swick


“Play is the highest form of research.” -Albert Einstein, Theoretical Physicist.
"What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.” - Xunzi, Confuscian Scholar

Take a moment and think about a time at school that you remember. Think back as far as you can. It could be a moment from your childhood or a lesson you taught as a teacher. What is it about that day that sticks with you? Why is that memory important?

I’m willing to bet that what came to mind was something that can be associated with play. I’m hoping your memory conjured up a time when you were engaged in an activity, project, or game that challenged your creativity or problem solving abilities. I’m hoping the experience included context for communicating and working with others. Most importantly, I hope what sticks out most was the fun you had.

For me, I will never forget the time my students designed kites from paper and plastic grocery bags while studying what causes wind. I will never forget the afternoon my students spent running around the playground in search of the right breeze to take their creation into the sky. The fun we had that day led to surprising results in the classroom. My students demonstrated a better understanding and were more engaged than ever before.

I’m hoping your favorite memory is something similar, but please, I hope you aren’t going to tell me that you have a favorite worksheet.

The importance of play in education cannot be overstated. It is a crucial aspect of child development, and it should be a central component of any curriculum that aims to foster a love of learning in students.

How Play Helps Students and Educators Overcome Challenges

Now more than ever we need to stress the importance of play. A perfect storm of challenges has descended on educators. Since I began teaching 20 plus years ago, K-12 educators have faced an almost insurmountable set of challenges. Whether it’s the rise in standardized testing, issues with school safety, lack of government funding, or data-driven school improvement, these challenges have generally taken away opportunities for playful learning.

The global pandemic has pushed public education even further to a tipping point. Schools are seeing a dramatic rise in classroom disruptions, absenteeism, and student mental health needs. The loss of instruction time has pushed academic achievement to demoralizing levels, and the greatest impact has been felt by high poverty communities with the greatest needs.

It is no wonder that the number of people seeking traditional teacher education programs has dropped by more than a third, and that schools across the country are facing historic staffing shortages.

Because of these challenges, I feel the need for a call to action. Now is the time to seek innovative solutions. Despite the many challenges teachers face, now is the time to bring play into your classroom. I think you and your students will benefit greatly from its practice.

Benefits of Play in the Classroom

Play has been shown to have numerous benefits for children, including the development of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills. It helps children learn how to interact with their environment and with others, how to solve problems and think creatively, and how to regulate their emotions and behaviors.

Incorporating play into the classroom can be an effective way to engage students and make learning more meaningful and enjoyable. It can also be an excellent way to differentiate instruction and meet the diverse needs of students, as play allows for a range of learning styles and ability levels.

It's important to note that play is not just for young children. Even older students can benefit from play-based learning. In fact, research has shown that adults who engage in play are more likely to be creative and innovative, which are valuable skills in today's rapidly changing world.

Ways Teachers Can Incorporate Play into Their Classroom

There are many ways that teachers can incorporate play into their classrooms. One simple way is through the use of games and puzzles, which can be used to teach a variety of subjects, from math and science to language arts and social studies. Other ways to incorporate play might include field trips, hands-on projects, and outdoor activities.

So, how can teachers incorporate play into their classrooms in a meaningful way? Here are a few ideas to get started:

  1. Give students choice: Allowing students to choose how they want to learn and what they want to learn about can be a powerful way to engage them in the learning process. This could be as simple as giving them a choice of activities or letting them choose the topic of a group project.

  2. Make learning experiential: Experiential learning is all about doing, not just talking or reading about something. Incorporating hands-on activities and field trips can be a great way to make learning more engaging and meaningful for students.

  3. Create a safe and supportive learning environment: For play to be effective, students need to feel safe and supported. This means creating a classroom culture that values respect, kindness, and inclusion.

  4. Encourage collaboration and teamwork: Play can be a great way to encourage collaboration and teamwork. Group activities, such as role-playing or problem-based learning, can help students learn how to work together and support one another.

  5. Use technology: Technology can be a great tool for play-based learning. There are countless educational apps and games available that can be used to teach a variety of subjects.

In conclusion, play is an essential component of a well-rounded education. It fosters creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills, and it helps students learn how to interact with their environment and with others. By incorporating play into the classroom, teachers can create a more engaging and meaningful learning experience for their students.

About the Author:

Dr. Tim Swick is the lead teacher of the Computer Science Immersion School at Sandlapper Elementary in Columbia, South Carolina with the mission of bringing Computer Science to ALL students. His work developing a school-wide integrated computer science curriculum was recognized by Magnet Schools of America Association as the 2022 Top New and Emerging Magnet School in America. He is National Board Certified, and holds a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. He was selected as a winner of the 2022 CSTA/Infosys Foundation CS Teaching Excellence Award, and is a 2022-2023 CSTA Equity Fellow.




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