Playtime – The Natural Path to Learning for Kids
As babies, we begin learning through our senses the moment we are born. This sensory learning builds upon our brain development by establishing neural connections as we grow and continue to experience the world around us. These connections help us make sense of our environment and form the basis for learning further through new associations.
Playtime is the natural path to learning for kids, as it offers a way to engage in new experiences that are loads of fun, but that enhance social, cognitive, physical, and emotional skills. Being in “play-mode” also opens our senses to quickly engage and receive new information making playtime a prime opportunity to integrate learning!
Unstructured & Structured Play
At Rayito de Sol, we provide structured and unstructured playtime activities that correlate with the lessons and themes we have each week. Unstructured, or “free play” is playtime with no pre-established objective, is organic exploration at its finest, and has no established guidelines. It is playing for the sake of playing! Kids lead the actions and activities during unstructured play and drive the outcomes.
Creativity and personality flourish during the freedom of unstructured play. Children imagine stories, fly like airplanes, build a sandcastle, put on a puppet show, and reinvent the world around them. Learned skills from structured play are practiced during these periods. Social skills continue to develop, peer-to-peer learning is accelerated, and coloring outside the lines is the most acceptable form of artistry!
Structured or “guided play” has outcomes that are focused and directed by a teacher or instructor.
Structured learning incorporates learning experiences that combine the child-directed qualities of unstructured play with established knowledge-based results and adult guidance. Within these playtime activities at Rayito de Sol, we have incorporated opportunities for our teachers to reinforce concepts from each lesson that allow the play to continue uninterrupted while promoting learning through observation, exploration, physical movement, and communication.
Structured play activity examples from Rayito de Sol:
- Ella is having fun playing with colored building blocks and following letter patterns that spell out her names. She also has the opportunity through structured play exercises with her teacher to learn about colors, letterforms, and sounds. Ella is also building upon her cognitive and fine motor skills while discovering concepts related to structure and form.
- Our classrooms participate in Yoga as a fun way to exercise and relax. We can learn to breathe, focus, feel our different body parts as they move, REALLY put our balance and gross motor skills to the test, and even compare our movements to animals we are discovering.
- Earth Day activities are a great way for our Rayito kids to learn about recycling, planting flowers, and being good stewards of our beautiful planet Earth. And we all know that there is nothing better than spending some quality time outside while playing in the dirt!
- Making something new out of recycled materials, paints, and crayons is a fun playtime activity our Rayito Kids love doing! Not only are we building something magical while learning about colors and shapes, but we are also developing our fine motor skills and creativity. Providing opportunities for the creative mind to flourish during playtime encourages children to explore different ways to perceive the world and solve problems.
Easy Ways Parents Can Integrate Learning and Play
Parents can integrate learning into play in effortless ways. Start by getting into play-mode. You cannot enjoy playtime unless you jump in with both feet! You will find that learning opportunities will abound as you engage in activities with your child. Some simple examples to consider are:
- Look to the sky: Spend a lazy afternoon skysurfing. Point out shapes that you see in the clouds, count the birds as they fly by, identify colors, talk about the weather, and hope for the magic of a rainbow!
- Sing! Babies learn when we read and sing to them. These verbal engagements provide opportunities for parents and babies to bond. Babies become familiar with pictures, voices, sounds, word patterns, and emotions. The Baby’s senses are stimulated and continue to create critical neural connections.
- Ball games: Playing with a ball, we learn about how our body moves! We also learn about physical force and motion by throwing the ball – jump, dribble, throw, toss, and roll! So many things we can do with a simple ball. Ball games also provided group activities that teach us about sportsmanship.
- Board games; Board games are not only FUN, but they build upon teamwork skills, cognitive processes, concepts related to following rules and instructions.
- Hop: A simple game of hopscotch is not only fun with chalk and hopping through the game with friends, but it is also writing numbers, counting, drawing, and sharing in social experiences that build upon our emotional intelligence.
- Bubbles: Something that hopefully every child can experience is playing with bubbles. Simple yet profound in their existence, these amazing circles of soapy air reflect light, float, come in all sizes, and provide smiles to children (and animals) of all ages. Bubbles are a wonderful opportunity to discover movement, size, counting, wet vs. dry, and more!
- Ask open-ended questions about everything! What, who, where, when, why, and how. Walk your child through a game of 20 questions and wait for the amazing discoveries to unfold.
As you can see, learning opportunities present themselves in almost every moment of every day. At Rayito de Sol, we know that playtime is the perfect time to integrate learning for our young minds to continue to grow, explore, and discover!