play-based literacy: A discussion about play-based literacy learning in the kindergarten classroom. What that looks like, what it means and how it works in my classroom.
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I discussed the topic of play-based literacy on my Creative Kindergarten podcast, and I thought it would be great to share it here as well. I also discuss how I run math centers in a different podcast episode.
Play-based learning seems to have very different meanings depending on the person that you are speaking with. Every educator has a different classroom philosophy and makes learning happen in their classroom in different ways.
With this blog post, I want to share with you, what play-based learning for literacy means, and how it works in my classroom. This is in addition to the explicit literacy lessons that I teach my students and compliments the skills that I am teaching them (phonics, vowels, digraphs, heart words, etc.)
When I am setting up my classroom, I look for opportunities to embed literacy into different areas.
Literacy learning does not need to only happen at a small group or guided table- it takes place throughout the classroom! So when you are reflecting on your classroom, and setting it up for your students, think about how you can embed literacy into different areas:
- in your building center
- in the sensory bin
- during outdoor learning
These are just a few areas to think about, there are plenty more literacy opportunities that can happen in the physical space and throughout the school day.
Different Approaches to Play-Based Literacy
As well as embedding literacy in your classroom, you want to make sure you are also using different approaches to teach literacy skills to your students.
Not all children learn in the same way, and they will need multiple exposures in different circumstances to understand different concepts.
There are 4 ways that I intentionally plan for literacy play-based literacy learning:
What are you adding to your students’ play to make rich literacy learning happen? Some examples:
- menus in the dramatic play center
- opening up a post office in the classroom
- adding blueprints to the building center
- letter manipulatives in the sensory bin/water table (like these)
- DIY letter manipulatives in loose parts play
As an educator, you also want to take the time to engage with your students, and use moments during their play to teach literacy concepts. For example, they are in the dramatic play center talking about their favourite foods- start making a menu or cookbook with them.
When you are listening and engaged in the play in your classroom, you will be able to capitalize on moments for direct literacy instruction through the students’ authentic play.
Provocations are a great way to engage students in their learning. These are activities or centers that you set up with intentional materials. You do not have an end goal in mind for them.
Students can interact with the materials in a way that they would like:
- loose parts,
- open-ended drawing/art centers,
- sand trays,
- small world play
Again, as an educator, when you are engaging with your students while they are at these activities, you are able to pull more learning out and move their understanding forward.
Engaging with students during guided groups is important. These do NOT have to happen at a guided table (I rarely if ever sat with a group at a guided table).
The English language is hard. Students will not be able to learn how to read and write without explicit instruction and opportunities to practice. A guided group is a great time to provide differentiated instruction for students.
Instead, they can happen throughout the classroom as opportunities arise. Plan your guided groups. I write down the names of students I want to explicitly work with on a sticky note, or else I will forget.
You can see more about how I plan and implement small groups for writing in my Writing Center blog post.
These are more of what you would typically think of when you hear the words Literacy Center. They have an end goal, and are set up by an educator.
These types of centers are only a part of a kindergarten classroom, along with all the elements that I spoke of before this.
They target specific skills that you are working on building with your students (letter formations, word formations, letter sounds, etc.). Again, you will want to make sure that you are engaged with your students when they are at these centers.
I like to use hands-on and engaging materials for these centers. You want to make it fun and provide opportunities for them to play as they learn. This letter mat and Sight Word Laundry activity are an example of what I would use in my classroom.
Integral to the success of play-based learning: set learning goals with your students. They need to know what they are working on and why so that they can achieve them.
For writing, I use the 2 stars and a wish model (you can see it on my free Writing Journal template).
If they are working on letter sounds, I typically start with the letters in their names. They will know which letters we are working on.
Please note- I do not make these learning goals a ‘competition’ by tracking it on the wall in my classroom. Instead, the student and I come up with a learning goal together, and I write it down in my documentation.
Documenting Play-Based Learning
With a play-based learning model, you are going to have to come up with a way to document that works for you. I use this OneNote template made by my friend Jenn from Books and Bytes.
Using an iPad to take notes and pictures, and to track progress works for me. Some educators like to use a clipboard. Find a way that works for you and be consistent.
Knowing what skills students are working on, tracking their progress, and knowing their next steps are integral for planning the learning that is going to take place in your classroom.
Your documentation should be the basis for all you do, and you will need to refer to it often.
Materials for Play-Based Learning
This is the hardest part for me in the kindergarten classroom- having enough materials to provide a rich learning environment.
It can be expensive to buy all new materials for your students to use, so I have a few bits of advice on where and how to get some great manipulatives:
- Reuse manipulatives for different purposes. Math tools do not have to be used just for math.
- Scholastic has great materials that you can get. I save up the money I get from family book orders, and I use it to buy those expensive manipualtives that I do not want to purchase myself.
- You can make your own: rocks, wood slices, Jenga game.
- Use natural materials that students bring from outside. Children love collecting things! Put these collections to good use.
I hope this blog post has you thinking about your classroom and the play-based learning opportunities that you can bring to it.
Tell me in the comments: What is your best piece of advice for play-based literacy learning?
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