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What if play outside the classroom could actually boost the learning inside it?
They’re common complaints: Not enough time. Not enough room. Too much technology. Kids don’t play the way they used to.
Take the growing stress – for kids and parents alike – on excelling in the classroom, combined with the subsequent cuts to recess, gym, and art happening at many schools, and it looks as though children’s play time is going one way… out. But what if we could turn that around? And what if play outside the classroom could actually boost the learning inside the classroom?
On Sunday, March 2, KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum and our early childhood development correspondent Deepa Fernandes talked #kidsplay at Zimmer Children’s Museum with a group of panelists.
Here's what we learned:
1. ALLOW FOR UNSCRIPTED CHARACTERS
Kids love to play dress-up but instead of providing props and costumes for already-existing characters, create a clean slate. Fabrics lying around the house can be crafted into various outfits allowing children to create their own costume and story — "That requires a lot more brain power than following the script of a television show or movie," notes Veselack.
2. AND ENCOURAGE MANY DIFFERENT ROLES
Themed settings — like the rescue boat or bagel shop at the Zimmer Museum — allow kids to partake in immersive and dramatic play. A setting where the environment is already created gives kids structural freedom, says Julee Brooks, director at the Zimmer Children’s Museum. She encourages you to recreate this at home with a balance of non-conventional and pre-made toys.
3. SUPPLY THEM WITH THEIR OWN SPACE
"Many of our socially constructed rules feel very arbitrary to children," says Brooks, noting that it's important for social and emotional development. Kids need an environment where they can set the rules and be in control. As a parent, don’t take the lead, says Dr. Faith Polk, assistant professor at Brandman University. Instead be an observant passenger and step in periodically when you feel you can heighten language development or real-life lessons.
4. CONNECT WITH NATURE
Kids are happier and learn better when they are outside and in nature, says Ellen Veselack, preschool director of the Child Educational Center. That's why it's important to put down the iPad and unplug. "You don't have to recreate the museum to give children really incredible experiences." Try bringing traditional learning materials like books, music and blocks outside.
5. GET SILLY WITH CHANTING AND RHYMING
Silly and simple games can save a rainy day, says Carlvert Green, program coordinator at Playworks Southern California. For a great example of this, fast-forward the above video to 40:50. Who knew a pinecone could be transformed into Bob the Bunny?
6. FOCUSED ATTENTION IS KEY
Kindergarten teachers say that focused attention is their biggest challenge. “They don't care if children can write their names when they come in; if the children can attend and focus, they'll be able to learn those skills,” says Polk. That’s where all of the above comes in. When kids play, they’re practicing without the fear of consequences.
THANKS TO OUR PANELISTS:
Moderator: Deepa Fernandes, Early Childhood Development Correspondent at KPCC - @deepaKPCC
Dr. Faith Polk: Assistant Professor, Brandman University; former Early Education Consultant for the Los Angeles County Office of Education
Julee Brooks: Director, Zimmer Children’s Museum
Ellen Veselack: Preschool Director, Child Educational Center
Carlvert Green: Program Coordinator, Playworks Southern California
JOIN IN THE CONVERSATION: What types of #kidsplay work with your kids? Let us know in comments or on Twitter at @KPCCforum .
This program was made possible in part by L.A. Universal Preschool and its support of our education programming. @LAUP4kids