Play-based learning at Renbrook is balanced with direct instruction to support students’ social, emotional, and intellectual development. Although learning through play looks different than more traditional learning experiences that many of us may be familiar with, it is learning that happens within a meaningful context. Students take ownership over constructing their own understanding and knowledge and because of that it sticks and becomes internalized.
Students learn to communicate their feelings and ideas, first verbally and then in writing. Children’s vocabulary is rapidly growing and participating in both student-driven and teacher-led play is a natural way to effectively boost children’s communication skills. As our students mature, they begin to use letters and sounds to write their name, label illustrations in home-made books, and create signage for environments they build with blocks. There is an intrinsic motivation for our students to express themselves in print when they are engaged in authentic and meaningful experiences.
Throughout the day students in Renbrook’s Early Learning Center develop fine motor manipulation skills using playdough, drawing and writing tools, scissors, glue, and building materials. Outside, they participate in free play like running, climbing, swinging, and jumping as well as adventures to the campus pond. Kindergarten students engage in weekly hikes on one of Renbrook’s four different hiking trails. All of these activities serve to strengthen their fine and gross motor skills.
When children play together they learn to cooperate, communicate, and engage with their peers in a way that ensures they feel part of their classroom community. These interactions give students the ability to build relationships and develop their emotional and social intelligence. Choice time develops independence; our youngest students are given the freedom to choose activities, demonstrate initiative, wait their turn, and share with a friend.
Creativity and Imagination
At Renbrook, we want our youngest students to develop the ability to see potential in the world around them, whether it be baking cookies with playdough, roasting leaf “marshmallows” with classmates over imaginary campfires outside, or manipulating cardboard boxes to serve as an emergency vehicle during choice time. This imaginative play quickly forms the foundation of a healthy childhood and sets them up to become creative, curious adults who can adapt to the world around them. A program grounded in play engages both students’ imagination and intellect. It fosters a sense of wonder and leads children to ask big questions such as “What if….?”
Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving
We stretch our youngest students to determine what a problem is asking of them and challenge them to identify what might be required to solve it. This starts in preschool when play is emphasized and building with various materials takes precedent. Students brainstorm ideas, create plans, collaborate with others, and revise their ideas considering balance, size, and weight. When students build a city, they are figuring out how the different sized blocks go together and balance on top of one another. Without knowing it, the students are laying the foundation for symmetry, geometry, and measurement and further developing their visual-spatial awareness.
When we over structure our youngest children's learning we undermine their creativity, imagination, and big ideas, and we compromise their development around problem-solving, making choices, perseverance, patience, and language acquisition. Play is the work of children.