Play based learning takes a child’s natural curiosity around playing and turns it into a learning experience that is either teacher/parent led (guided play) or student-driven (free play). Here are some ways you can engage your child in play based learning at home.
Play Based Learning at Home
These ideas will look different depending on a child’s age but hopefully, they inspire you to meet your child close to their level. Change up ideas to either challenge or accommodate your child’s needs. And be sure to read all the way to the bottom for ways to engage older elementary children in play based learning.
Fun with Food!
Food is a great way to get your child involved in play. I don’t know about your house but in my house Goldfish are a favorite snack. These snacktime friends are great for practicing counting, addition, subtraction, and division (have them count a set amount and then see how many groups they can divide it into – make sure it’s a divisible number for them). For younger children use the colored goldfish to sort the colors!
I love getting kids outside. I think the more time outside the better! Have you read our post on the 1,000 hour outside challenge? This is a great place to start with some outdoor play ideas.
Here are a few more:
Go on a shape hunt in nature. Kids love to go on a treasure hunt so give them a goal or a tracker with simple shapes. Level it back a bit and go on a color hunt! Level it up and have them build a pattern with items they find in nature.
Older kids could make a nature weaving creation. Ask them to make a bouquet of flowers or longs leaves they find outside to put on the dinner table that night. If you have a garden give them a section where they can choose what to plant but they are also responsible for keeping it growing.
Find a book and read! But wait, how is this play? Do silly voices and make it fun. My kids love to read in fun places – can you build a fort before reading? If your kids are older have them help you read the voices, assign them parts like a play.
Am I playing with them?
Play based learning is best when it child driven. So give them free time, let them choose what they play and try not to control how they play, safely of course.
With this in mind, try to notice times when you could add to their play. Are they doing something where you can teach them a new word as they play? Could you imitiate what they are playing and join in for a few minutes? And if you see them playing where another toy might compliment their play, gently take it out and place it near them, see what they do with it.
Play with others!
Playing with other children is so important. Children learn many skills when they play with others. Skills like cooperative play, problem solving, sharing and negotiating will help them in school and in life beyond. They can even learn new ways of engaging with toys and imaginative play from friends.
Older elementary students can still play!
Don’t forget that our older elementary students still have fun with play based learning. Here are a few ideas!
- Restaurant: Kids can set up a menu, kitchen, have a cash register and pretend money. Let them take your order, bring you drinks and food, total a check and get you change. Don’t have fake food anymore? Think outside the box – have them make it with playdough, or draw pictures of what you order on paper. It’s all play!
- Grocery store: Let them set up shop. When they are ready you or another friend can go through and shop! They have to total items and make change for you. (Feel free to expand the store idea…hair salons, nail salons, comic book stores, Matchbox car stores, etc.)
- Teacher: Encourage children to set up a classroom and teach their most favorite subject. Join in on the lesson! Encourage them to make a worksheet or activity to go with the lesson as well.
- Puppet show: Let them design a puppet show around their favorite story. They can make a script, have a set design, even make costumes for their puppets. Then when they are ready to put it on make an audience. In our house this would be a great reason to pop some popcorn as well!
- Library: Have a lot of books? Allow them to set up a library space. They can create spaces for reading, playing, checking books out and returning books. Allow them to make library cards for everyone in the family.
Try play based learning!
Let us know if you try any of the ideas above. We would love to know if your child has a favorite way to play that we haven’t thought of either. Feel free to share in the comments!
However you chose to play at home, just try to find some sort of time for play based learning.
Tiffany Verhoosel is currently a Computer Science teacher in the Baltimore City School District. Coming from a background of business she joined the Baltimore City Teaching Residency over ten years ago to make the career change into education and has never looked back. Her degree from Johns Hopkins, a Master of Science in Digital Age Learning and Educational Technology, helped propel her from Special Educator to her current teaching position where she teaches Kindergarten to eighth grade students how to code.