the-role-of-play-in-learningMaking Your Classroom Work More Like A Playground

by TeachThought Staff

Should classrooms be more like playgrounds?

The playground is a place of whimsy, creativity, cognitive “ease,” and social interaction. It’s accessible, open, and fun. There may be some room for this type of thinking in a classroom, yes? Embedded in this thinking are a lot of the ideas that we promote consistently at TeachThought, from learning through play, to student-centeredness, to interdependence, and “messiness.”

These are the characteristics of a playground, where reduced formality and increased focused on enthusiasm and togetherness yield a tone of possibility. There is potential, then, in bringing these characteristics to your classroom as well. Some may not translate directly, depending on what you teach (content, grade level, etc.), but if you squint a little, you’ll see the connection.

We’ve included some examples for each below to jumpstart your thinking, but note–bringing a “playground” approach to your classroom is as much a matter of tone and purpose as it is tips and strategies. Without the right frame of mind, you can check every box and still miss the point.

As a teacher, if you’re not being playful and creative and innovative, you’re just “doing what you’re told,” and risk conditioning your students to think the same way.

Making Your Classroom Work More Like A Playground

1. Kids decide what to do and when to do it on a playground, so consider allowing students to choose their own entry and exit points in a lesson or unit.

2. Use the Sync Teaching Method, where students have some degree of autonomy, but “sync” with teachers where the teachers require.

3. Help students make their thinking visible. Share skills and resources in project-based learning. Digital portfolios are a no-brainer.

4. Use inquiry-based learning, where there is no standardized beginning and ending point, no pre-determined understandings, and no universal assessments.

5. Playgrounds have slides and courts and fields, some of which suggest existing games (e.g., soccer or tag), but you’ll also see students have fun making things up as they go–and not just elementary aged students either. If children are given a chance at design thinking, they usually take it, so integrate design thinking in projects, creative writing, or non-creative writing that might benefit from creative thinking.

6. Consider the “playground equipment.” Use the resources around you to create something new–a digital photography collection to create an eBook for children, for example.

7. Be intentional with the tone of every interaction, assignment, and requirement. Or better yet, let students help determine it. There is a tone and atmosphere to exceptional learning circumstances, and people and their emotions have to be at the center of it all.

8. Playgrounds are in neighborhoods that children know and have used for years. So, consider place-based education. Publish work in the local community. Consider problem-based learning solving local challenges. The big idea is that work is social and products are social and effort is social, so the entire experience is social.

9. Digital citizenship is about people and their connections, not friends and what they “prefer.” Create projects that require students to work together with those that may not be their first choice, and then help frame that work so both can be comfortable and successful. Also, help students “think globally” by realizing the way they impact total strangers in a scenario-based learning project, for example.

10. Accept non-academic goals as valid and authentic compared to those that are academic. In a “playground approach,” the goal isn’t to prove you have “mastered” the standard, but that you’ve let your truest “Self” shine through. Imagine how this one alone could change a classroom! A digital video project where the big idea is to illuminate the part of themselves no one seems to see!

11. Play requires agency and control. Help students take control of their own learning–self-directed learning, for example, or a Maker Education project where the work can’t survive without them and their cleverness and ingenuity.

12. Help students find their own particular way to show leadership. Not all leadership is vocal; every student, introverted or extroverted, 2nd grade or 12th, “good in school” or “struggling” all have a chance on a playground, because there is so much to do, and so little direct pressure to conform. Your classroom can benefit from the same approach.

Yes, we can learn through play–but it’s also true that play can be the goal, not just the means. Playfulness with an idea, theory, tool, or group is the sign of a mind at ease, in control, and thinking creatively. Play is both a cause and an effect of great learning! Help students use ongoing and personal platforms–blogs, businesses, learning simulations, video games and more–to make play a habit.

Making Your Classroom More Like A Playground; image attribution flickr user bobbyjames