Twenty-first century education is looking remarkably like twentieth century education. We continue to group our children by age and sometimes gender and we place them inside rooms where they can often times be discouraged to interact with their peers and classroom games. They are placed in rows and asked to listen intently to the wisdom of the lovely yet underpaid, overworked and rarely appreciated teacher. It’s time we recognize this generation is growing up in 21C and we’ve come a long way.
We’ve known for decades that children learn best through play and yet we discourage it in the learning environment. Just ask that poor teacher to get paint out for an art project and her face will tell it all. Now to be clear, you must know that the teacher is no more at fault for the ridged structure of today’s classroom than the children. Some educators have already begun to make major changes to how they deliver the curricula. In fact, there are numerous efforts to bring play back to the classroom. Speech and occupational therapist are a great example of professionals using play and classroom games to help children learn. However, the curricular demands combined with the insistence on frequent testing are getting in the way of the most natural and effective way for children to master a new idea.
Play is especially crucial for the youngest children who need that peer interaction to learn how to socialize and make friends. Furthermore, those essential skills we teach in primary school are far easier to master when we use our whole body to learn. Need to teach the difference between primary and secondary colors? Get messy. Get those color out in paint, in the food we eat or in clay we can mold. Frustrated that the children in your room struggle to take turns? Let them play.
Whole body play allows all the child’s senses to be engaged. Instead of sight word bingo try whack-a-word. Give the children soft mallets and place the sight words on the floor. As you call out the words the children should use the mallets to whack them. Watch how quickly they learn those words when the whole body is involved. Instead of silent reading try reader’s theater. Place the children in small groups and ask them to act out the book they’ve chosen for the rest of the class. Comprehension scores will soar. Children naturally find the playful way to learn new concepts and it’s time we followed their lead.