One of the best benefits of being a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow is the experiential learning portion of the year. Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic are sending me to a remote area of the world to learn by doing, seeing, touching, smelling, experiencing. In short, I get to go play in the Arctic.

While away for training in D.C. in April my wonderful guest teacher allowed the students to get out some new “toys”. When I returned they learned the rules for this particular tub of goodies. Keep it all together in one area so the little pieces don’t get lost and keep them away from computers. What was in the tub? Experiential learning equipment, investigation supplies, exploration tools: magnets, magnetic objects, and a few non-magnetic objects thrown in for good measure. Throughout the rest of April and all of May the magnet tubs were pulled out every “social time.” Also known as free choice time. It’s the time when kids get to play and learn to get along with others in social settings. The beauty of the magnet tub is, in addition to learning about sharing and using nice tones they get to investigate, experiment, create hypotheses, and discover. Children learn through play and inquiry.  It seems at least every other day one of my students teaches me something new about magnets that I didn’t know, or even think to find out.

These are some of the things discovered, completely on their own, so far:

  1. You can make paperclips into magnets by rubbing them back and forth swiftly on a magnet.
  2. Some magnets are stronger than others.
  3. The larger the magnetic area, the stronger the magnetic pull.
  4. You can make objects move without touching them including spinning around and climbing plastic tub walls.
  5. Some magnets push away and some pull towards; sometimes just turning a magnet around gets the opposite effect.
  6. You can make a magnet flip over and over in your hand with another magnet.
  7. You can hold a magnet on top of your hand which in turn holds up a magnet under your hand.
  8. You can learn a lot through play.

Another favorite play time activity has revolved around paper airplanes. The students are encouraged to re-use papers from a tub comprised of leftovers. Most of the year the paper was used for drawing. One day a student made a paper airplane. He shared his knowledge of airplane creation with everyone. Then, we, yes myself included, started experimenting with different types of planes. We found some creations flew straight and far, others spiraled, and still others flew in loop-d-loops. The latest development in airplane making has turned into a charitable pastime. Several of the girls decided to make as many planes as possible and give them to the class. They diligently spent the entire play time making one plane after another and then distributed them at the end.

Many believe that social time, or free choice time, is not necessary in kindergarten. It is. With so much emphasis put on academics there still needs to be room for play in a kindergarten day. Intuitively I know that free play is beneficial for kids. As part of teacher education I learned that play is beneficial for kids. My goodness, it’s beneficial for adults! So, I went looking for some research to back this knowledge up. I found this wonderful article by the Minnesota Children’s Museum which in turn pointed me to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Lo and behold, both sources preached the same message. The benefits of play are HUGE in a child’s development and academic success! Yet, play is increasingly being pushed aside as less important than “academics.” Ironically, play helps with academic achievement. Are we shooting ourselves in the foot by chipping away at this valuable part of the day?

The American Academy of Pediatrics states, “Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development. It has been shown to help children adjust to the school setting and even to enhance children’s learning readiness, learning behaviors, and problem-solving skills. Social-emotional learning is best integrated with academic learning; it is concerning if some of the forces that enhance children’s ability to learn are elevated at the expense of others. Play and unscheduled time that allow for peer interactions are important components of social-emotional learning.”

The Minnesota Children’s Museum, in an article summarizing thirty years of research on play, states, “Play lays the foundation for higher-order thinking and later learning of formal STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts.”

As I get ready to embark on my own experiential learning journey, I have to say, in my class, we will continue to make time to play. What will you play today?

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