Play-based learning helps develop young minds

With the advent of provincially mandated, full-day kindergarten in 2011, School District 20 has begun to implement play-based learning.

The play is the thing in School District 20.

In fact, play is the newest thing, a modern interpretation on an age-old practice of teaching young people through play.

A growing global movement amongst early childhood educators has touched down in the Greater Trail region, spreading throughout School District 20 (Kootenay Lake).

With the advent of provincially mandated, full-day kindergarten in 2011, the school district has begun to implement play-based learning, taking whole child development into consideration by involving domains of social, emotional, physical, aesthetic and language acquisition.

At the end of the first year of full-day kindergarten, SD20 director of instruction Bill Ford said more than half of the kindergarten classrooms in the district are now well entrenched in the philosophy of play-based learning.

“Play-based learning is hands on, trial and error, and the absolute best way for the early developing brain to learn,” said Ford.

“It fosters a love of exploration and discovery, encourages natural curiousity, provides opportunities to make sense of the world and sets children on the track for lifelong learning.”

The combination of going a full day for kindergarten with play-based learning will have a significant impact on the start in life for the region’s young people, said Ford.

Studies clearly show children who begin school with purposeful play as the basis for the curriculum are more advanced in reading and math, and better adjusted socially and emotionally in school than those in a more traditional, scripted kindergarten instruction over the long term, said Ford.

Much of a child’s early learning takes place through play, he added.

“The focus really is on to supporting them to understand the world around them as they question and as they try explore and try to make sense,” said Ford. “If you walk into a classroom and you look around and you see students that are playing, that they are actually engaged in purposeful learning.”

All kindergarten classrooms in the district have elements of a play-based learning program in place, Ford noted, with some further along the continuum than others in this work.

Play at the kindergarten level has many benefits—healthy physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development—that cannot be achieved by delivering only a pre-academic skills curriculum, said Ford.

Play is the work of childhood and is essential to a child’s development and is recognized by the United Nations High Commission for human rights, said Ford.

“For example, when a child plays with blocks, sand, or water, she is learning the basis of logical and mathematical thinking, scientific reasoning, and cognitive problem solving,” he said. “Teachers provide and guide different types of play opportunities in the kindergarten classroom to address different types of learning: dramatic play, active play, group play, individual play, and so on.”

The conversation on play-based learning was started in earnest two years ago in SD20, and when full-day kindergarten was implemented province wide and throughout the region in September, 2011, some teachers were already well versed in the program.

It wasn’t a hard sell to teachers, said Ford, and the district only had to support teachers as learners, providing some additional resources: learning centres, water tables, sand tables, blocks and drawing materials, carpeted areas where they can hold classroom instruction.

“What you would see walking into today’s kindergarten classroom today is you would see noise. Learning is noisy and learning is messy, and kindergarten teachers embrace that,” said Ford.

As the program comes back on stream this fall, Ford said SD20 is looking to expand the reach to Grade 1.

“It is not the walls of the school that make a difference, it is what is happening in the classroom with that teacher that makes a difference,” Ford concluded. “And this is making a difference.”