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Playful Summer Learning

Five ideas to promote joyful learning experiences when school’s out
Ice Cream

Usable Knowledge recently talked with Jen Ryan, senior project manager at HGSE’s Project Zero (PZ), about how educators can encourage playful learning in the classroom. Now, with summer upon us, Ryan and her PZ teammates, Ben Mardell, Megina Baker, and Yvonne Liu-Constant, share advice on how parents and caregivers can support the practice outside of school and have some fun along the way.

1.    Create opportunities for choice.

Summertime is often highly scheduled for Ryan who says she began planning out her daughter’s many activities on a spreadsheet last November. Since playful learning empowers students to guide their own learning, Ryan suggests allowing kids to make some of their own choices and decisions about their time. “It might be as simple as, ‘why don’t you come up with your own routine for getting ready for camp in the morning,’ or ‘why don’t you create the menus for the week for [family] eating,” she says.   

2.    Connect with your community and the great outdoors.  

Playful learning encourages the use of outdoor spaces. Ryan suggests that caregivers seek learning opportunities “within the community — whether that’s connecting with people or connecting with other organizations or connecting with the land around you.”

3.    Explore the unknown.

“Families should just chill, let their kids explore something they don’t yet know, lead their own learning, and find joy in the process. And maybe also get wet and eat a lot of ice cream,” suggests early childhood educator, Liu-Constant.

4.    Tell and act out stories to cultivate the imagination.

Ask kids to share a story, describe a memory, or suggest a prompt for them. Write down the story and then ask a child to designate family roles. As the story is read out loud, family members can act out what is being described.

5.    Play games during long car trips.

Put away the tablets and phones for a while and try some activities together that involve literacy, memory, and logical thinking, for example:

  • The License Plate Game — see who can find the most license plates on the road from all the different states.
  • 20 Questions — choose a place, person, or object, and ask your child to ask up to 20 questions to guess the answer from the category.
  • “Sing downs” — form teams and have someone pick a theme. Each team gets to sing a song associated with the chosen theme without repeating a song. The team that runs out of songs loses; the team that remains wins.
  • The “rainbow game” — look at the different colors of a rainbow and try to find something that is each color. See how many times you can get through the rainbow together.
  • The “alphabet game” — find each letter in the order of the alphabet on street signs or signs on buildings.
  • Listen to books on tape and talk about them as a family.
  • Bring a sketchbook and invite kids to make sketches of things they see passing by.

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