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How to Help Your Child Learn Through Play

by Jessica Parnell | Mar 20, 2015 | 4 min read

Many parents have heard or thought of the dreaded four letter word when discussing their child’s progress or as you try to get through a homeschool lesson. “Oh, he just wants to PLAY.” This makes us cringe, because “play” means he doesn’t want to learn.

Before we know it, worries of how our young one will ever be “ready” to learn begin to fill our minds. Put your worries aside! If your child just wants to play, it could be that they are not the problem, rather they are pointing you towards the key to unlocking how they learn.

Because play is what all children, not just young ones, need to learn well and engage in the learning process.

If you can’t win them over, maybe you should join them! As a homeschooling parent, you have an advantage as you can join them, and create a fun homeschool curriculum that integrates playtime. But, perhaps you’re not the most creative parent out there and wonder just how you can help your children learn through play. Keep reading to learn the why and how of learning through play!

Why play?

When your child is playing, they are engaging with their whole body, mind, and emotions. And, their activities help them to make sense of the world around them. Think about the last time your child was playing pretend. Her body was moving, her imagination engaged in becoming a character, and most likely she was role-playing social and life situations. Her mind, body, and spirit were engaged in a way that was helping her to better interpret the world around her.

Through play, children use their entire body and develop social and cognitive skills, mature emotionally, learn to communicate through language, and gain self-confidence. Play gives our children the keys they need to feel comfortable, and engage in new environments and with new material. When playing, the body is often using more than one sense, thus experiencing more. In fact, sensory play helps the brain to better process information and make memories.

Play also releases serotonin, a chemical in the body that allows us to feel happy and confident. Play is an essential building block to helping our children become who they are supposed to be and enjoying their life, setting the stage for learning and growth. Those are reasons enough to keep playing while you learn throughout your entire life, not just in early childhood!

How do I know they need to play?

If your child can’t stop fidgeting, stay in their chair, or endlessly stares into space during learning, they are most likely an active child who could benefit from targeted play learning and sensory integration into their homeschooling routine. Active children are always on-the-go, seem to be driven by a motor, and aren’t happy unless they are doing — and doing is just what they need! Because engaging the body will engage the brain and enable your learner to make new memories and enjoy the learning experience.

But, learning through play is essential for more than just very active children. Studies have shown that manipulating objects and moving while learning help to ease stress, make new memories, and increase creativity in our brain. Movement, especially by the hands, stimulates the brain to stay focused. So, give those handheld fidget toys to your high school student and create lessons that engage the body in play and movement for every age level. You’ll see more creativity, more excitement, and more learning!

The best learn-through-play tips

  • Watch closely. Observe your child’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to emotional, social, and language development. These are great areas to begin your play learning!
  • Start with the goal of what you want your child to learn. To find the best way to play while learning, first consider the learning objective. Allow that to guide your choices in how you play and present the main idea first. Then engage in play by coming back to the main point at the end, discussing how your play time showed or allowed your student to experience the learning. For example, explain that you’re going to learn about money and how it is used. Then play grocery store together allowing your child to be the cashier. After a fun time playing, your learner will be ready to talk about money in a whole new way!
  • Make it sensory-oriented. Interact with as many of your five senses as possible while playing. Playing with blocks, sand, water, and other materials develop logic and reasoning skills. Touch, taste, smell, listen, and see the concept, so the brain is fully engaged and ready to make new memories. Writing skills can happen in sand or cinnamon; learn math while baking; and explore science outdoors while collecting treasures that show what you learned.
  • Allow your child to lead. Play not only allows our children to engage with the world, it helps them to develop strong leadership and cooperation skills. So, set the stage for your child to learn while playing by giving them the necessary tools, objects, and curriculum, but let them make choices for themselves and lead you during the activity.
  • Pretend while playing. Pretend play develops the skills our children need to think abstractly and creatively. Dress up, role play with puppets, dolls or action figures, or go back in time or to faraway lands on field trips together. Just make sure to act it out!
    No matter how old we are, humans learn best through active playing. The added benefits: playing strengthens our bonds to one another and makes us happier. So, use the tips and tools above to get started or have more intentional play time with your students. You’ll be amazed at the world of learning and growth that opens when you simply play together!
Jessica Parnell
Hello everyone! I’m Jessica Parnell — mom, homeschool evaluator, teacher, and CEO of Bridgeway Academy. In my 20+ years of experience as a homeschool mom and evaluator, I have had the privilege of meeting homeschoolers that take a variety of approaches to their education. It is their many stories and successes that inspire me in my own homeschooling and I love to pass on the knowledge that I have gained from them to other homeschooling families. The one constant that always remains true is that there’s no such thing as a “cookie cutter child.” Each child is fearfully and wonderfully made and as a result, learns and functions differently. It’s our job to ensure that we’re raising each child to fulfill their individual purpose and when we can teach in a way that inspires them, we are on our way to homeschool success. When I’m not writing or teaching my children, I like to ski, write and participate in triathlons. I graduated from Kutztown University with a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Masters in English and I am currently pursuing a degree in Neuroleadership.
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