The benefits of play-based learning for social and emotional wellness are well-documented but often overlooked in traditional educational approaches. As we celebrate Emotional Wellness Month, it’s time to shift our focus and explore the profound links between play and social-emotional health. This article will unpack these connections through practical insights that will help you infuse a healthy dose of play into teaching and learning.
What is Play-Based Learning?
According to psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Brown, the properties of play include being voluntary and having an inherent attraction rather than being externally motivated. This may appear to contradict the traditional style of education, where clearly defined goals and mandatory assignments are used to motivate students to succeed. However, play-based learning ranges from child-directed free play to educator-directed guided play. Children learn to explore their surroundings and personal desires through free play, while guided play can build specific skills and knowledge for students of all ages. This continuum makes it possible to use playful approaches to support your delivery of the curriculum.
Crucially, play-based learning involves some degree of agency on the part of the student. This form of learning is meaningful as it encourages students to make connections between knowledge and experience, to associate learning with pleasure, and to be actively engaged rather than passive recipients of information.
Too often, academia is a source of stress and negative emotions for young people. By incorporating a playful approach, you can facilitate a more positive relationship between students and their learning, leading to gains in social and emotional wellness.
Types of Play-Based Learning
There are many ways to experience the benefits of play-based learning at home or in the classroom. Providing various forms of play can cater to different “play personalities,” a theory developed by Dr. Stuart Brown. He argues that people seem to have inherent inclinations towards specific types of play, and engaging in the activities we are predominantly drawn to will result in increased success and wellness. Here are just a few examples of playful learning that cater to different styles and contribute to both academic and social-emotional development:
Gamifying education is probably the most popular way that teachers encourage play, and it particularly appeals to the “Competitor” play personality. For instance, converting a lesson into a Kahoot quiz can motivate students through their desire to win, but it can also increase wellness by encouraging interactive fun. Furthermore, in team-based games, children learn to communicate, share, and collaborate effectively. These experiences lay the foundation for healthy relationships and the development of empathy.
You can break up large amounts of information by allowing students to digest and “play” with smaller doses through presentations and skits. This will appeal to the “Joker” personality whose preferred style of playfulness is through wit and entertainment. Meanwhile, group performances allow those with a “Director” style of playing to take the lead. Performing arts have been shown to boost social and emotional wellness, while humor makes for a more relaxed classroom environment where students are at ease to be themselves.
Role-playing and storytelling:
Stories nurture perspective-taking and empathy, and this is not limited to literature classrooms. For example, if you teach biology, you could invite students to narrate the perspective of a raindrop going through the water cycle. This would excite “Storyteller” personalities who connect to information that engages their imagination. This form of play can contribute to improved mental health as students learn to express emotions and ideas. Furthermore, one of the key benefits of play-based learning is that approaching imagined circumstances can strengthen capacities to navigate real-life experiences and emotions.
Arts and Crafts:
People with an “Artist” style of play will appreciate opportunities to present their work in aesthetically appealing ways. Color has an important role in the emotional atmosphere of the classroom, so encouraging students’ colorful artistic contributions to the learning environment can elevate their personal wellness. To enrich their engagement with the curriculum, students can create and respond to art that is thematically linked to topics covered in class. This allows them to make personal connections with academic content, increasing their motivation to learn.
Physical play can involve activities such as running, jumping, and climbing. It is about promoting physical development, coordination, and fitness. Additionally, it aids in stress management and emotional well-being by allowing children to release energy. Incorporating “brain breaks” to allow for movement and activity is important for enhancing wellness, as well as helping “Kinesthete” play personalities to connect to their learning.
Quests and missions:
Setting quests for students to accomplish a prescribed task encourages their agency in knowledge acquisition. For example, you could visit a historical site and assign a mission to uncover the causes of a specific event. You can leave clues that guide students to relevant locations, aiding them in their investigations. This sense of adventure would appeal to “Explorer” types, as well as “Collector” personalities who might enjoy collecting clues to piece a puzzle together. Problem-solving and critical thinking skills are stimulated through the process, contributing to a sense of capability that boosts confidence and self-esteem.
Tips for Play-Based Learning
Invite play, don’t force it:
If you want to maximize the social and emotional benefits of play-based learning, it’s important to remember that a vital aspect of play is voluntary participation. Being attentive to what your students seem to enjoy is a great way to come up with new ideas for playful activities that will appeal to them.
While planning to incorporate pedagogies that facilitate play is important, equally powerful is your ability to be spontaneous. When an opportunity for humor, surprise, or mystery arises – embrace it. This will help you to connect with your students and make education mutually enjoyable for all.
Nurture a supportive atmosphere:
Create an environment where students feel safe to express themselves through play. Encourage open communication, active listening, and respect for each other’s ideas and contributions. This will enable them to try new things, learn from mistakes, and develop their interests, thereby increasing confidence and proactive learning.
The benefits of play-based learning are multifold. As children experiment and adapt, they become more resilient when facing real-life challenges. Play-based learning encourages students to take risks and make decisions in a supportive environment. Success in their playful endeavors allows them to build confidence in their abilities. By harnessing the power of play, learners can thrive emotionally and socially, equipping them for a brighter future.
At Educate. Radiate. Elevate., we champion the benefits of play-based learning for social and emotional wellness. Our tutors provide no-cost, student-centered learning to underserved students with a focus on academic, social-emotional, and soft skills development. We take a holistic approach that is backed by research, and our work has a tangible impact on student outcomes. To celebrate Emotional Wellness Month, donate to E.R.E. so that we can continue to support our most vulnerable youth.