These days children all over the world are subject to an entirely different set of pressures than the generations before them. Their universe now includes frequent standardized testing, which is a norm for children at even the very earliest ages. Electronic devices have become a part of our collective fabric, offering constant enticing opportunities for diversion, passive experiences, and instant gratification.
School curriculums now push students to do more, and earlier, than ever before. Recess has become a diminishing commodity with students receiving fewer and fewer minutes of recess per day each year. Scheduled activities, such as after school lessons, tutoring and team activities eat away at our family time and at children’s free time. Using the Spielgaben in a classroom setting provides an outlet for children from these stresses.
Both parents and educators find themselves struggling with these new pressures on our very youngest learners. Finding new ways to keep kids engaged and learning in our current model of society can be a challenge! Of course we want our students to learn as much as possible, and push themselves to their highest levels of achievement, but there are some real challenges to beginning the push so early. Many children simply are not ready for these pressures for a variety of reasons.
Research shows that one of the best ways for young children to learn is through play.
This does not mean passive play on an electronic device, but good old fashioned open-ended, imaginative play. In the early years, children learn more through play than through almost any other type of activity. When children are engaged in different types of play, whether it be imaginative/fantasy play, cooperative play, independent play, construction play, or physical play, they are gaining a whole set of skills that they cannot develop through more passive types of activities.
When children engage in play, they are gaining skills not only in their cognitive and academic realms, but also in their problem solving abilities and their oral language richness. The social and emotional gains achieved through engaging in this type of play gives children a huge advantage over their peers who do not partake. Through this type of play, children learn social skills like getting along with others, taking turns, and solving problems. They learn perseverance, and benefit from increased focus. They learn communication, cooperation and creativity. Their imaginations soar and they benefit from increase fine and gross motor skills. The list of benefits goes on and on.
Herein lies the dilemma
So…..we know that play is important for children. We also know that societal demands provide less opportunities for children to engage in free play than ever before. What are we as caring parents and educators to do? Create opportunities- that is what!
While it is true that we face more pressures for our children and more detractions to their free time than ever before, it is important that we carve out places in our children’s days where they can still be kids! What a great way to teach them balance, which is a thing that we as adults still strive to find.
Play in the classroom
In the classroom, days are packed with reading, writing, arithmetic, science, social studies, vocabulary instruction, phonics, art, music and computer-based learning, just to start. Yes- the days are jam packed, but by creating times for children to engage in free-play and unstructured activities, their success in these other areas will actually increase.
Research indicates that children are much more prepared to focus following a play session.
Although educators may not have the freedom to provide their students with more outdoor recess, there are other ways to increase opportunities for play during the school day which will benefit students in immeasurable ways.
Using the Spielgaben in the Classroom Setting
Using the Spielgaben in a classroom setting provides children with the chance to build, problem solve, think creatively, learn math and construction principles, increase vocabulary and oral language! Because of its storage cabinet, it also provides the added benefit of encouraging clean up and teaching children organization! The best part of all? Kids get to play when they are using it!
There are several different ways that the Spielgaben can be included in a typical classroom day. One of the most successful ways that teachers have reported using the Spielgaben is in a center type setting. Many classrooms use this structure during several times of their day. A great number of teachers use literacy centers that the students work in independently while they are offering small group or individual reading instruction. Math stations are also a popular for students to practice skills independently while teachers work with small groups or individual math students. The Spielgaben is a versatile addition to this type of setting.
In this type of center, a teacher has a certain number of centers that students visit every day. A predetermined group of students are placed together, and the class visits each station for a certain amount of time. The centers are activities that students can work on independently which will increase literacy or math development, while the teacher works with another group of students on a small group activity. Students are trained in the beginning of the year on how to use these stations appropriately, including expectations for cleaning up. They then have the opportunity for extra practice on many different skills that they can work on at their own pace, and are free to explore materials which may be helpful to them.
During literacy, stations may be things like independent reading, partner reading, independent writing, spelling work, retelling stations, high frequency word work, oral language stations, poetry, handwriting practice, etc. The Spielgaben is a perfect tool to add to these rotations as it contributes to both increased oral language and fine motor skills,which can impede writing if not well developed. As children play with the Spielgaben, it is normal to observe them thinking aloud, discussing what will go next and why. They are discussing the attributes of the pieces they are using, and also speaking in sequential steps about their creations. It is easy for students to use independently, giving them the chance to work without adult assistance, freeing up the teacher to read or write with small groups of children.
Math stations work in the same manner. While the teacher is working with a group of children, others work independently in rotations on different activities. These activities may include fact practice, measurement activities, pattern exploration, math games, exploration of geometric materials, workbook pages to practice previously learned skills, counting and sorting activities, or problem solving activities just to name a few! The reasons why Spielgaben is a perfect fit into this part of the day are almost too many to list! The Spielgaben exposes children to opportunities for sorting, counting, patterning, fraction, geometric, spatial reasoning and measuring activities. It can help turn abstract concepts into more concrete ones by allowing for hands-on exploration and opportunities for problem solving. Children experiment with how pieces fit together to create what their imagination sees.
Teachers have many options on how to use the Spielgaben as well. Included with the toy are several activity guides which can provide students and teachers with ideas for activities. On some days, teachers may opt to allow free exploration with the toy, giving children the chance to create their own activities. On other days, they may wish to use the Spielgaben to reinforce an idea or teaching point by assigning a certain type of activity or exploration. The Spielgaben is the perfect complement to a math or language arts curriculum, yet it provides children with the precious opportunity for play!
Free Choice Activities
Another way in which teachers may incorporate the Spielgaben in to their day is during free choice activities. Much like rotation center activities, many teachers often have a pool of activities for students to work on independently, which designed to reinforce math and literacy concepts while teachers work with individuals or small groups of students.
Unlike the idea of centers or rotations, students are allowed to flow freely between these choices. In this way, they may explore a certain activity until they feel mastery of it and are ready to move on to something else. Since the Spielgaben is so open ended, students may find an endless array of ways to explore mathematical, fine motor and language principles with the toy. In other words, they will never tire of it, like they do so many other classroom activities.
While teachers are seeing math, reading or writing groups, the rest of the class may choose between a variety of activities designed to promote critical thinking, math or literacy skills. Instead of the teacher assigning them to certain activities to complete or rotate through each day, the students decide how they would best like to spend their time, giving them more control over their own learning.
As with the centers above, the teacher may choose whether to allow for open-ended exploration, or to guide the exploration through the use of learning targets, or the activity guides.
Another option to the above scenarios is for teachers to use the Spielgaben as a teaching tool. The teacher can actually house the Spielgaben station, and provide students with a problem to solve, or an activity to complete while he or she oversees the activity, observing students’ work.
For instance, students can be challenged to work with a partner to create and continue a pattern. The teacher works as observer, questioning students about their methods and discoveries, but not offering solutions.
During these types of informal assessments, teachers can learn a great deal about a student and their thought process, allowing him or her to provide appropriate scaffolding or extensions for students.
More Ways to Use the Spielgaben in the Classroom!
- Students work hard all week long, and many teachers offer extra play time as a reward or incentive. Rewarding students with 15-30 extra minutes of free choice or play time once a week is a good way to celebrate a job well done.
- For students that are having trouble focusing on a task at hand, it can be very beneficial to set up a quiet corner of the room where kids can participate in a short hands-on activity for 5-10 minutes, and then rejoin the class. Their focus will often skyrocket after this short break.
- The Spielgaben is a great indoor recess activity for those days when the weather does not cooperate with plans for children to get outside and run around. It engages both the hands and the mind, providing a perfect opportunity for students!
- Set up a “When I am Done” board for students who have finished their work early. The Spielgaben is a great and quiet activity that students can work on while others are finishing their assignments. This encourages students to get right to work and stay on task so that they have a few minutes to play when they are done.
- The pieces of the Spielgaben make great math manipulatives. Children can use the smaller pieces to help master concepts like addition and subtraction. The bright colors and smooth wood are so inviting!
- Put some of the pieces out for morning work. Mornings are busy with school announcements, attendance, lunch count, etc. Put some of the pieces out at students’ tables for them to manipulate while the teacher is taking care of paperwork and business, and other students are coming into the classroom and taking care of their coats, homework, etc.
You can see that the Spielgaben is the perfect fit for a classroom setting. No matter how large or how small your group of students is, you can tailor its use to meet your needs. It is a great way to sneak in some extra play time for your students, while still offering them learning opportunities. The benefits that they will derive from the hands-on, exploratory nature of the toy are innumerable, not to mention the fun they will be having while they are learning!
The Spielgaben offers teachers the perfect balance of play and learning. Using the Spielgaben in a classroom setting helps to create opportunities for open-ended exploration for children which are sorely missing from today’s society. We know that kids need more time for play and this is one way to give it to them!