Play-based learning is already widely accepted as a vital part of early childhood development. But, what about the benefits of continuing that approach into the later years? Do we need our students to play their way into learning?
In short — yes.
Incorporating games into the classroom is an important tool in any educational program. Benefits include higher engagement among students and unique ways to reach every kind of learner. Activities also provide opportunities to practice critical thinking while promoting social-emotional learning.
Games might not be the sole solution to better learning, but they are a valuable layer in creating an approach to education that prepares students for life both in and out of the classroom.
Games provide educational styles to fit every type of learner
Using games in education provides a valuable opportunity for hands-on, experiential learning. This can be especially important for creating lessons that speak to all different types of learners in a classroom.
Whereas some students learn from reading the activity materials, others are best served by getting up and actively engaging in that same material. The reading-oriented students can benefit from classroom games that involve directions, stories or scenarios, and other written content to digest. Experiential learners can explore classroom ideas while working through an activity that relies on the lesson’s principles. Students who thrive when explaining or discussing concepts with their peers can benefit from collaborative games or activities that involve team communication.
Games and other learning activities offer a chance for each student to experience the material in the way that best suits their individual learning style.
Games teach important collaboration and critical thinking skills
Incorporating team-based games into the classroom can be a powerful tool for teaching critical thinking and collaboration.
Critical thinking and problem solving
During individual and team activities, students tackle a number of problems to reach a goal. Plans of action might change when presented with new issues. Students can assess risks when debating appropriate paths forward. Throughout it all, the need for strategizing and decision-making helps students learn important critical thinking skills as they develop a plan for success.
Collaboration through classroom games
In team-based games, students work towards a common goal. Collaboration becomes paramount when team members will all succeed or fail together as a single unit.
At the start of an activity, students must discuss among their counterparts who will perform what functions on the team. In doing so, they all must identify important strengths within themselves or their fellow students. Students then need to organize the team’s roles and responsibilities based on those strengths. When faced with additional challenges during the game, team members also need to work together on recalibrating and overcoming new obstacles.
Classroom games reinforce social-emotional learning through education
Research shows that playing games in the classroom reinforces important components of social-emotional learning like communication, listening, and empathy.
When solving issues, students need to communicate with one another about what they would like to contribute to the activity or what they think the team should do. At the same time, they need to remain aware of how the rest of the team feels about roles, decisions, progress, and more.
If one student is being particularly quiet, another might take note and decide to advocate for them to the rest of the team. Or, when debating how to play a game, students might take into account how all members of the team feel about the options before coming to a final decision.
Social-emotional skills are becoming increasingly important in education as we understand more fully how they relate to later success in adult life. Classroom games are a great educational tool for promoting these soft skills.
Games aid student focus and classroom management
Using games in education is also an important classroom management tool. Activities help provide additional sensory experiences that refocus a classroom. This is a helpful outlet when students are fatigued from lengthy testing, have just returned from a school break, or have experienced any other distraction that might negatively impact immediate focus.
This more active style of learning also encourages higher rates of engagement within a class. When given more control over their learning experience, students become more involved in the material, discussions, and their sense of belonging within the classroom. Games provide this opportunity for involvement and empowerment and help contribute to deeper engagement and more focused students.
Classroom games boost intrinsic motivation (and are just plain fun)
In addition to all of its other educational benefits, a game just makes learning more fun. This shift in focus from the material to the activity can make learning feel less like work for students.
Instead of focusing simply on memorizing facts and answering questions in a worksheet, students tackle a game. They don’t even realize that they’re working through the lesson plan at the same time.
Not only can this improve the overall mood of your class, but it can help tackle more difficult concepts. When presented with a problem through play rather than a textbook, students are less likely to become discouraged or overwhelmed. They might also take additional steps or try new ideas that they wouldn’t in a traditional educational model.
Educators are always trying to find ways to bridge the gap between students and the material. Classroom games help make education more approachable and exciting for everyone.
Both team-based and individual games for kids should be frequently-used tools in any educational plan. Not only do students enjoy higher engagement through these activities, but they develop social-emotional skills that will produce dividends far beyond the classroom.
Photo credit: Google Education