4 Benefits of Play-Based STEM Learning
There are many benefits of play for children, both at school and at home. When we are very young, play is the way we learn about new things. It is a time to use our hands, our minds, and our voices to explore the things around us. Play can positively impact our brain, our academic growth, as well as our creative and social development.
Play and movement fuel your brain! These activities help your brain to make more connections and reinforces memory. Play sends positive messages to our brain. When your brain is fueled, you may have increased energy and even be in a better mood. When learners engage in play, they use their senses, which allows them to process different types of information. This processing also helps learners in their academic and social development.
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Play can support academic growth. When learners have a brief “play break”, they are better able to focus their attention on academic tasks. Engaging in pretend play like drama and role play helps to build language skills. When learners navigate play with others, they engage in conversation and share their ideas. Play experiences help learners to take risks and make mistakes that are low stakes, helping them to persevere and grow.
Engaging in different types of play activates our problem-solving skills. It helps us to think creatively about topics and use our imaginations. When our imaginative thinking is fostered, we build stronger empathy and understanding towards others. This not only makes us feel more creative, but it also builds relationships with others.
Play, especially free play, supports social development in young people. When they engage in play, it helps to build communication skills, turn-taking, decision-making, and positive social skills. Socializing with peers and engaging in play supports the social emotional development of our students. Play can also build independence, helping learners to develop their own ideas in a positive way.
The walking, dancing, coding companion! Marty the Robot V2
Is STEM play-based learning?
STEM learning doesn’t have to feel like serious learning. STEM is discovery, tinkering, creating, experimenting, and building. It can be creative, iterative, challenging, and playful, all at the same time. We can provide opportunities for students to use tools that inspire play. While the learning experiences that we design may be playful, there is meaningful learning happening. Take a look at these examples:
Two students are "playing" with an electric circuits kit, trying to get a sensor to trigger a buzzer. They are sharing ideas and making decisions together.
The learning behind it:
Properties of electricity
The difference between open and closed circuits
Series vs. parallel circuits
How does STEM and play fit together?
STEM aligns well with play and shares many of the same benefits. When learners engage in STEM, their work is social as they collaborate on design challenges and get feedback from one another. STEM learning is creative, as students think outside the box to solve problems. The integration of science, technology, engineering, and math is certainly academic as it connects important content areas in hands-on ways that allow students to apply what they are learning. When STEM learning aligns with play in creative and collaborative ways, learners will experience many of the same benefits.
Play in the Classroom
The late Fred Rogers is often credited with saying, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” If play is the “real work” then shouldn’t we be striving to make our classroom instruction more playful?
STEM aligns well with play, although it isn’t made up of solely play. Effective STEM instruction is grounded in content knowledge and the interconnected nature of science, technology, engineering, and math. When it is approached in a way that is engaging, collaborative, and fun, STEM evokes a sense of playfulness. Whether constructing with cardboard or creating with play dough, we can help all students to access STEM learning when we offer playful opportunities to engage in the learning.
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