Learning through play.

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As a primary school teacher, I have spent a considerable portion of my life trying to engage, enthuse and energise my pupils by making their learning fun and enjoyable. It doesn’t really matter what they are learning about, a lesson on fractions can be just as fun as a lesson on the Vikings, but building an atmosphere of intrigue and enthusiasm is key.

It might be important at this point to note that while I use the term ‘learning’, I am of course referring to any developmental progress that takes place during a child’s life. From the very beginning, our children are learning about the world around them and everything in it. Our job, as loving parents and educators, is to create that unique and child-like sense of wonder for our children.

I have seen parents creating elaborate and extravagant play activities for their children which are wonderful. Some are truly breath-taking and works of art in their own right, but today I wanted to write about the simple ways we can engage our little ones. The ways which require very little, if any, time, money or resources.

Firstly, it is important to consider the way in which an activity is presented to a child. Do I want them to work on their fine motor skills by building a block tower? If so, I would leave the blocks in an enticing place, next to another beloved toy. Or display them in an arrangement which will spark the fire of curiosity, such as a tower ready to be knocked down. How did they get like that? Can I do that? How many are there? Can I do more? This small, simple change takes little to no time at all, yet works wonders.

After putting Arlo to bed each night, I dedicate just 5 minutes to this task, laying out a few resources in an intriguing way for the next day. Similarly, standing books up instead of lying them down. Leaving the pieces of a rainbow stacker or puzzle out of order or randomly placed invites the child to recall how it fits together and reconstruct it themselves. If you are looking for more suggestions, a great place to start would be a quick Google search for ‘The Prepared Environment’ by Maria Montessori.

Another simple way to inspire engagement is through ‘open ended’ play. Animal figures, loose parts play, household items – this list is endless. Often, the activities Arlo engages with the most are the ones which are random and quickly put together. For example, I might take a walk around the house and gather all of the – child safe – items I can find that are blue, such as a whale figure, blue blocks, blue rainbow stacker, blue discs, a blue ball, blue dyed rice etc. and arrange them on a tray for Arlo to examine. This type of activity costs nothing, can be set up in minutes and yet leads to possibilities which I promise you would never have even thought of, let alone been able to plan for! Have you ever seen a whale balancing on a block tower in the middle of a sea of dyed rice? That is what Arlo created in our last open ended ‘blue’ play. There are so many amazing ways to make these type of activities taste safe for younger children, such as blending cereal to make ‘sand’. Remember, your little one won’t see a blue spatula. They’ll see a rocket ship ready to launch or a humpback whale diving in and out of the sea. It is incredible to watch what they come up with! If you do give it a go, be sure to tag me @CatkinToys on Instagram. I love to see all of your amazing photos!

Finally, my absolute favourite – outdoor play. Nature is the very best playground and setting up an engaging activity outside can take seconds. Recently, I grabbed some of our pebble toys fruit and veg and hid them around the garden. We then went on a ‘fruit hunt’ and searched high and low to see if we could find them all. For something that took literally minutes to set up (I set them out while Arlo getting his boots put on) this had Arlo absolutely enthralled! I gave him his very own backpack and ‘explorer’ hat and off we went, exploring a foreign land in search of tasty treats! We even returned indoors to make a smoothie from the real versions of the fruit we had found. Other ideas might be using a stick to mark make in mud, building collages using leaves and sticks or even grabbing a few packets of seeds and planting them – perfect for teaching responsibility and where food comes from. Truly, time spent outside is never wasted!

I am discovering new activities and resources all the time. If you have found something that works well for you, drop me a comment in the comments box below. I hope you have managed to find at least one new thing to try from reading this post.

Don’t forget to tag us in your wonderful photos @LittleLearningHub or use #LittleLearningHub

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