All children are naturally curious and eager to learn more about themselves and the world around them. Although some may find learning easier and more fun than others, there are ways to help children get excited about developing their mind and social skills without pressure or rigorous testing. In fact, the best procedure to help a child learn is something they will completely agree with: playing more.
Play is an active learning process most children will eagerly participate in. Children are smarter than we give them credit for and know the difference between pure play, play-based work, and no-fun boring work. Setting them free allows their minds to open up and be as uninhibited as possible. While one type of learning may be best suited for a classroom, play is the ideal platform to develop social, physical, emotional and intellectual skills all at once.
According to an article by Colorado State University, “Positive play experiences develop positive emotional well-being. When children feel secure, safe, successful and capable, they acquire important components of positive emotional health. Sharing play experiences also can create strong bonds between parent and child.”
There are several types of play a child can enjoy and often more than one at a time. For example, when a child is playing Construction Man (fantasy play) and building a house with couch cushions and pillows (constructive play) they are accomplishing two types of play at once. Here is a quick look at the five most common types of play according to the Child Development Institute:
- Motor/Physical Play
- Social Play
- Constructive Play
- Fantasy Play
- Games with Rules
Once children reach a certain age (typically 6th-12th grade) play involves less imagination and more exploration. They are more curious as to how the real world works instead of creating their own imagination land. There are many ways both educators and parents can utilize this opportunity and still capitalize on the “I am playing, not learning” ideal. Here are four examples of how a 12-18 year old can learn while having fun:
Watch News and Documentaries
Whenever students hear they’ll be watching a video, most of them believe they are getting a break from learning. As the lights go down and the screen lights up they identify this with recreation, not schoolwork. But there are hundreds of documentaries for science, history and other subjects available for purchase or online streaming that will capture their attention. Whether it’s striking computer-generated imagery (CGI) or excellent acting and storytelling, the educational value of these movies are cleverly entertaining. Your students will be learning without even knowing it.
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Take a Field Trip
Field trip. These two words will excite every student regardless of their desire to learn. Why? Because they get to leave the school for the day. But venturing out to a history museum, science museum, art museum, zoo or historical site has a powerful and lasting impact on a student’s psyche. There are three main stages to executing a field trip, as noted in this article by the University of Florida. A quote from the study declares that field trips “provide unique opportunities for learning that are not available within the four walls of a classroom.” Firsthand experience can never be replaced by a textbook lesson.
Plan Themed Parties
Themed parties are fun for everyone and a great opportunity for children to play an active role in learning. Whether they act out a skit or sing educational songs, when children get to dress up and the room is decorated, their imagination is wide open. This great article on throwing a kids’ Victorian party offers advice for the menu, table setting, tea service tips, Victorian crafts and much more. By acting out the history, it will imprint on the students’ minds more than reading a textbook will. And what child doesn’t like dressing up and pretending to be somebody else?
Use Technology as a Tool
Children K-12 are privileged to a variety of technological advantages in the 21st century, including iPads and tablets. While some adults may only see these devices as recreational, there are hundreds of fun and educational applications available for students to learn with. Most of these programs are games, and in order to win you must complete the questions. For example, a storied spelling game could enhance both motor skills and spelling aptitude. A timed math game could offer tests to complete to build up a racecar. And a high-resolution map or world atlas game could stimulate the senses and supply fun facts the entire time. Technology games are both educational and entertaining — the perfect combination for learning and play.