If you think kindergartners still play with glue and paper all day, think again. In fact they’re not playing enough, educators say, so they’ve set aside a day to do just that. See how children learn through playing at Global Day of Play.
It could have been your standard free time in Jaime DeVries’ classroom at Comstock Park’s Stoney Creek Elementary. Remarkably or not, the couple hours she gave kindergartners to engage in near boundless play was pretty orderly for the overwhelming number of available choices.
One group of five played a board game at a round table while four others watched. The next table over, Marcell Sinkfield and Zoey Hogg were making up a story with miniature ponies. In the back of the room, Kendalin TenCate and Gabby Borgeld pulled oversized shirts over their own clothes, aimed paint brushes at easels and imagined away.
DeVries’ students, as well as the other four kindergarten and two kindergarten readiness classrooms, were taking part in the fourth annual Global Day of Play, held this year on Feb. 7.
Last year some 285,000 students on six continents were registered to take part. It’s also been a hit in some Kent ISD schools, this year including Cedar Springs’ Cedar Trails Elementary as well as Comstock Park.
Play Helps Social Skills
In today’s academic world of grade-level expectations, when standardized tests begin in kindergarten, Day of Play lets students get back to the basics, teachers say.
Research shows there’s a lot going on when children play and adults back off. According to the 2009 report “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need Play in School,” kindergartners now spend far more time being taught and tested on literacy and math skills than they do learning through play and exploration, exercising their bodies and using their imaginations.
The unstructured, screen-free time at Stoney Creek wasn’t all fun and games for teachers. They were observing how their students interact, looking for those social “soft skills” that aren’t part of the curriculum.
“It’s looking at whether and how they get along with others, how they solve problems, can they clean up after themselves,” said kindergarten teacher Kim Reynolds. “Probably some of the most crucial skills for them to have.”
Teachers have long known how valuable play is to a child’s development, DeVries said.
“They’re learning to work independently and with a team, how to use tools, developing listening skills and following directions, taking turns.”
DeVries turned and pointed to the cluster of board game players.
“Look how excited they all are, and only five of them are actually playing. You don’t see that with screen games.”
Meanwhile, in Cedar Springs …
Making forts from blankets, fidget-spinning, making things with building blocks and ramps, creating a story, and classic board games: These were just some of the options Cedar Trails Elementary pre-kindergarten through first-grade students had on the Global Day of Play.
Each classroom offered free play, but with a theme, and students rotated among the classrooms while teachers took notes on the learning they saw. The idea was that “teachers would actively participate in the unstructured play, allowing the students to lead the learning,” according to Principal Beth Whaley.
Teacher Lynette Wolfe declared the Day of Play a success.
“Students reflected on what they were learning while they were playing,” she said. “They noticed they were doing math, reading, writing and problem-solving when they didn’t even realize it.”
The music room was transformed into “the noisy room” for the day, but it was not chaotic — rather “organized chaos,” said music teacher Kym Davis. Students in her classroom were allowed to choose from activity stations, hurrying to try different instruments or dance to the music.
Davis said she was impressed with how students used the opportunity to practice social and emotional skills. “I saw a lot of sharing, taking turns, and comparing activities,” she said. “There was also a lot of wondering and questioning, such as how does this work and what is this called?”
Lyndsey Birdsong’s kindergartners brainstormed about what makes a community before beginning free play, and spent part of their time being a community member and having a job in Birdsong City. Students used boxes to build and drive emergency vehicles and toys to set up grocery stores and restaurants; they became medical personnel, teachers, construction workers and citizens needing services.
“They really needed to do a lot of problem-solving,” Birdsong said.