Meaningful Play Makes for Successful Learning

It’s certainly no surprise that children like to play. They jump, they color, they make-believe, they story-tell, and while it may seem like all fun and games (which it is), play is also an important vehicle for learning.

It’s so important in fact that one area school has incorporated play-based learning into their curriculum and educational offerings. Just this year, Wake County Public School System introduced its first Play and Ingenuity magnet theme at Powell Magnet Elementary School. With a broad array of Domain and elective courses to support core subjects as well as visual, performing, and contemporary arts, and media, Powell Center for Play and Ingenuity engages its students through play and game-like learning that encourages active participation and exploration to build and strengthen brain pathways.

“Children innately use play to understand the world around them,” said Justin Kram, the play integration specialist at Powell Center for Play and Ingenuity. “At Powell, we inspire our students to explore our curriculum dynamically through play and to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. We guide the learning process, but wherever possible, we give our students the reins.”

You too can harness the power of anticipation and enjoyment of meaningful play to support your child’s educational development and growth at home. A few simple cues and the willingness to empower your child to self-direct a new path of play will get you started. Here are some ideas to consider:

Space out

Learning doesn’t have to take place at a desk or a table. Create a space of possibility for your child. Let her make a comfy reading nook inside an empty clothesbasket or cardboard box. Set up an outdoor “workstation” on a picnic bench. Give her empty floor space to stretch out with the projects and games that hold her interest.

Get to gaming

Let your son create his very own game. Offer up three everyday household items—think marbles, water bottles, coins, buttons, straws, toy trucks, nearly anything—and ask him to make up a game you can play together. Once conceptualized, “play test” his game to see which ideas worked and which may need to be tweaked for a better experience.

Scavenge and seek

Send your daughter outside on a math-inspired scavenger hunt. Tell her to find a variety of items in varying numbers—five sticks, nine rocks or 12 leaves. After she counts out and collects her special finds, ask her to use the different items she’s gathered to create a picture or pattern of her choosing.

Reveal new rules

Bored with board games? Change them up. Ask your daughter to pick a board game and add a new rule to shake up the game-playing experience. Remind her that the sky’s the limit on her soon-to-be-introduced guideline; she can reverse the order, create a silly wild card, introduce physical challenges, and more.

Put on some dancing shoes

Does your fifth grader like to move and groove? Challenge him to choreograph a dance to one of his favorite songs. Let him put on a performance for the entire family and then teach everyone the steps to the new dance.

Spot and spy

Turn your around-town commute into an educational experience. Play “I Spy” with your children. Ask them to point out shapes and colors. Task them to spot vowels or even and odd numbers on the signs you pass as you drive to soccer practice or chess club.

Sticks, straws, and strings

Give your son an assortment of sticks, straws and strings. Ask him to use the different items to make letters and numbers. As he creates each, he can identify the letter sounds, count up to the numbers he forms, or start spelling out his weekly class sight words.

“Go for walks with your children and let them talk about what they see. Explore with them and show them you are interested in what they notice. A vast amount of learning can take place when you engage with your children about things that interest them. As a parent, you are welcoming and encouraging your child’s curiosity—this is the greatest foundation for powerful learning,” added Kram.

Parents interested in learning more about Powell Center for Play and Ingenuity and the unique magnet theme it offers may schedule a school tour or contact Magnet Coordinator Cris Laurens at (919) 856-7767 for further information. The school will host a Magnet Theme Showcase on its campus at 1130 Marlborough Road in Raleigh on Wednesday, Jan. 18 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Visit Wake County Public School System’s Magnet Programs website at for more information about all of its magnet schools and themes and enrollment opportunities.

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