Children learn through both direct and indirect play. Child day care providers can take advantage of opportunities for social and emotional learning through play activities. In Part 2 of our interview with expert, Meghan McGinley Crowe, executive director of literacy for Little Sprouts, Inc., Crowe explains the importance of learning through play.
OwnADaycare: How does play lead to real life learning in the area of language and literacy development? What are some examples of play activities preschool teachers can offer in this area?
Meghan McGinley Crowe: In college, I studied Russian language and culture. I had taken a 1-semester class in high school and was fascinated with the guttural, elegance of the language. Formal study of the language allowed me to learn the basics and pass the tests, but I have very little practical knowledge left.
However, I also was part of an exchange program to Russia where I lived with a family for a month. The six-year old and I practiced our respective language skills on each other in a low-stress, playful environment and the vocabulary I picked up from this young girl stays with me, where my college level education faded quickly.
Being comfortable to try new language and practice pragmatics is best done through play and teaches not only vocabulary, but grammar, sentence structure, and usage. Every time a preschooler makes a word past tense like “standed” or plural like “feets”, it is proof that they are playing with language rules and have learned how to generically by adding a suffix to a word they already know. Though incorrect, this also proves a child is not just mimicking an adult, but rather truly experimenting with language. Teachers and parents should encourage this practice while gently modeling the correct version of the word.
OwnADaycare: How does play lead to real life learning in the area of physical development? What are some examples of play activities preschool teachers can offer in this area?
Meghan McGinley Crowe: At its core, play is a physical, kinetic activity. Sitting at a table playing a literacy game, for example, can be a great opportunity to build fine motor skills. A teacher could give her preschoolers plastic tweezers and cover a table with paper-cut out letters and ask the students to pick out all of the B’s, or the letters in their name. Not only are her students building their letter identification, they are practicing the skills essential for later writing development.
Gross motor play, including outside time, is full of pretend play and physical activity. This type of play is often easiest for an adult to enter without disrupting the flow of the activity. Adults should observe for a few moments before entering the game, and then ask, “What are we playing?” to have the stage set for the pretend story at hand. Very quickly, she will find herself running, laughing, and enjoying as much physical development as her young playmates.
OwnADaycare: What are examples of good verbal cues that preschool teachers can use to enhance learning through play?
Meghan McGinley Crowe: When offering implicit, incidental learning opportunities (opposed to explicit instruction), teachers should ensure all learning is playful and a natural part of the game at hand. Teaching new vocabulary is one of the best instructional inserts to gameplay. Listen to the conversations the children are having and find natural ways to have fun with new words. When playing on the playground, a teacher can model “tossing” a ball, gently, swiftly, or energetically. In the block area, a teacher can model creating different housing units such as a condominium, a hut, or a mansion.
Regardless of the games the students create themselves, teachers can give a good start to any lesson with the hook, “would you like to play a game with me?” Everything is more fun with coated with a playful focus.
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