Learning Through Play at Home
Guest blog by Sabrina Smoke
It has been a challenging month for everyone, particularly parents of young children! Everyone’s anxieties are running high for many different reasons. On top of everything, parents have suddenly had to take time off from work or start working at home while simultaneously trying to look after and home-school their children. Many of my friends have been finding teaching from home difficult. That is why I thought I would share some ideas for simple play activities, some of which you may already be doing, and ways that they can be enhanced to help children learn and practise essential skills.
For young children, the most important thing we can teach them is to love learning and to want to do and learn things for themselves. That’s why I’m not pushing my children to do much structured learning at home. These activities provide opportunities to learn and practice skills through play. I hope you find them helpful!
Loose Parts Play
Loose parts play is an open-ended play that allows children to explore, combine and build with a range of different objects and materials in multiple different ways. It means giving children a vibrant environment where they can choose what they use to create, build, role play, engineer and more. For example, children in my class have used stones for making towers, as ingredients in soups and cakes in the mud kitchen, or as money or medicines in role play. There are many benefits to loose parts play, such as allowing children to develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination, practice language and communication skills, be creative and practice and apply mathematical skills. It’s perfect for home learning because it is self-directed play, so children are highly engaged. Also, they can have the freedom to play and explore without an adult telling them what to do.
At home, we particularly enjoy loose parts play with some of our toys like blocks, Grapat and the boxes they came in. These are fantastic toys because they have such a wide range of uses. Children can use them over and over again in different contexts and types of play. My children have used them to make ‘boats’, ‘gardens’, ‘castles’, ‘people’, ‘airports’, ‘cities’, ‘minibeasts’ and much more!
Ways to enhance learning
To take this further, you could give children paper or a notebook to draw or write about what they have made. I’ve found that this can be a great way to get even reluctant writers to pick up a pencil. You could also give children numerals to encourage recognizing numbers and counting.
Going on walks with children is a great way to get out of the house and break up the monotony of the lockdown. There has also been a great deal of research showing that walking in nature has many benefits, including improved mental health (reduction in stress, depression and anxiety). Walking is a great way to give you and your children some much-needed self-care in addition to getting some exercise.
Ways to enhance learning
While out on your walk, you could also play games like hide-and-seek. It is an excellent way for children to practice social skills, following rules and taking turns to help tide them over until they get back to school. You could also go on a nature hunt with your children by getting them to see what animals, plants or flowers they can find. Then you can ask them questions to encourage their scientific skills (ex. What do you notice? What are they doing? Why do you think they are doing that?)
Gardening is a terrific activity to do with children!
There are many opportunities for learning, and it also provides many health and therapeutic benefits. Research has shown gardening is linked with improved achievement in school and the wider world. There is also a range of physical and mental health benefits to gardening for both adults and children.
You can garden with children in a raised bed, in pots on your balcony or even on a windowsill. You only need a little space to get started. The following are a mix of child-friendly flowers and plants that can be grown indoors or out: spider plants, cornflowers, nasturtium, pansies, calendula, sunflowers, tomatoes, green beans, garlic, and peas.
To get started with gardening may find it helpful to have some tools like gardening gloves, rake, trowel, and shoves.
Ways to enhance learning
There are many ways to connect gardening to academic learning. When gardening with younger children, you can help introduce vocabulary such as sprout, stem, leaf, and germinate. With older children, you can explore and research more complex concepts such as photosynthesis.
You can give children paper to draw, write and record anything they want about the plants they grow. Children can also measure plants and growth and record this as well.
You can even get older children involved in planning a small garden. They can help measure the gardening area and decide how many plants can be grown based on how much space they each need. This activity is an excellent way for children to practice measuring, calculate area and problem solve in real life, purposeful contexts.
The best bit – children can cook and eat what they grow! Children who grow their food have been found to have a better knowledge of nutrition and long-term healthy eating.
I hope that you find these activities helpful! Remember, the most important thing right now is to help children feel safe and secure in these uncertain times. Please don’t feel pressure to do too much, especially if your children aren’t in the mindset to learn, for whatever reason. And most importantly, be kind to yourself.