Boy playing by water. Linda (image modified). Creative Commons.
Learning Environment

3 Ways to Encourage Imaginative Play in the Classroom

As kindergarten becomes more academic, playtime is falling by the wayside.

There is much debate surrounding early childhood education. Some feel kindergarten is becoming too academic, leaving kids with less than adequate time for imaginative play, while others tout the benefits of learning reading, math, and science skills at a young age. According to research (PDF) from National Center for Education Statistics, 80 percent of kids attend full-day kindergarten, up from 56 percent 10 years ago. This study also reports music and art offerings in the classroom dropped by almost half over the past 10 years. Clearly, more is expected of kindergartners today than ever before, but is this a bad thing?

Part of the reason behind kindergarten becoming more academic is a growing understanding of the importance of early learning. In this Mind/Shift article, University of Virginia researcher Daphna Bassok says we need to focus on the way children learn. She says, “There are classrooms that are very hands-on and allow kids to explore and also have terrific focus on math and are language-rich. Those things don’t need to be at odds at all.”

This Scholastic article offers these three techniques for incorporating imagination and play into a kindergarten curriculum:

  1. Have them act out a story
    This type of fantasy play teaches kids important lessons about plot, characters, and language, while building creative thinking skills and confidence.
  2. Provide them with basic construction materials
    Building materials such as blocks, Styrofoam and cardboard allow them to create art while teaching them spatial and engineering skills. Sand and water tables also provide a great hands-on activity.
  3. Encourage interaction with peers through games
    Get the whole class involved in a game that involves math skills. Games are a fun and social way to learn. There are numerous online resources for inspiration.

While exposure to academic content is certainly beneficial for kindergartners, studies show self-directed play is an equally important aspect of childhood development. By using these techniques, you can impart academic knowledge as well as build social and creative skills in one fell swoop. The goal is to make learning enjoyable for kids.


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