When Kids Are “Just Playing”

Learning Through Play

By Kristina Zeier



Have you ever considered that when children are building a tower out of blocks or rolling cars down a ramp or having fun with pretend babies that they may be doing more than “just playing”? What if while building with blocks they are actually learning to construct by becoming more spatially aware and learning about balance? What if by rolling cars up and down ramps they were actually seeing the cause and effect relationship between gravity and rolling objects? What if through rocking baby dolls they were actually practicing life skills and scenarios they’ve observed in the world?

Whether we know it or not, learning is happening through play! Some obvious ways that learning occurs is through table activities, worksheets, circle times, etc. But don’t underestimate the in-between moments—those are just as important, if not more. Young children are mindfully soaking up absolutely everything around them. Unstructured play time is so important for children to learn in a unique way. Children are not built to sit, they are meant to explore and experience adventure. Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and speaks about thoughts of babies—it’s very fascinating!

“…they’re just learning how to count. But unconsciously, they’re doing these quite complicated calculations that will give them a conditional probability measure. And the other interesting thing is that they’re using that evidence to get to an idea, get to a hypothesis about the world, that seems very unlikely to begin with. And in studies we’ve just been doing in my lab, similar studies, we’ve show that four-year-olds are actually better at finding out an unlikely hypothesis than adults are when we give them exactly the same task. So in these circumstances, the children are using statistics to find out about the world, but after all, scientists also do experiments, and we wanted to see if children are doing experiments. When children do experiments we call it “getting into everything” or else “playing.”

When children are young, play is their work. There are ways we can encourage growth and be a part of children’s learning through play. One way is to actively and intentionally set up activities through the day geared toward learning, which may be easier than you’d expect! Setting things up is only half of it, however. Asking questions, participating in conversation, and listening scaffolds learning and is the follow through that really makes a difference.

Here are some examples of activities that directly impact a specific area of development:

Cognitive Development:

  • solving puzzles
  • going for a walk and observing weather
  • counting your fingers, pieces of chicken nuggets, rocks—anything!
  • having opportunities to stack or nest objects, such as cups
  • making simple patterns to copy using objects, such as buttons
  • developing hand-eye coordination through coloring

Social-Emotional Development:

  • being able to self-identify by looking at family pictures and naming everyone
  • make a self-portrait while looking in the mirror
  • singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It” using all the emotions
  • learning cooperation through pretend play
  • developing mobility of thought through dress-up

Physical Development:

  • learning balance through walking on a low beam
  • using a jump rope, learning to focus their viewpoint
  • riding a bike
  • running around
  • crawling, jumping, skipping, etc.

Playing is critical to brain development. Play helps a child learn more about themselves and the world around them. Play also helps a child understand how they fit in. Take these many moments of play as opportunities to teach and observe. When children play they don’t even realize they are learning, but they will remember it forever.

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” -Fred Rogers

About the Author

Kristina Zeier loves every aspect about being an Early Education teacher. Kristina is in her sixth-year teaching at Monarch Christian School and feels incredibly blessed to be a part of the heart behind the school. Kristina helped start the Early Education program at Monarch and helped open the Infant/Toddler center. Kristina loves to learn and develop herself as an educator through professional and self-development. A growing understanding of the importance learning has during these critical years excites Kristina to create a thriving environment every day.

Can You Learn to Ride a Bike by Reading a Book?

Hands-on Teaching in Action

By Shannon Cirricione

“Tap… tap… tap…”

How long can we expect students to sit and listen to a teacher lecture? How long are we able to hold their attention before they’re asking, “When’s lunch?” And how in the world do we keep them from tapping their villainous pencils on the desk?

Today’s students are such a new breed that some teachers are at a loss for how to captivate their minds and teach them to love learning. It’s not the teachers fault, it’s simply the rapid change in this demographic that leaves them befuddled. We, as teachers and parents, have to understand the demographic and how it has changed in order to cater to this newly developed learning style.

It is increasingly believed that our student’s absolute obsession with the constant use of technology is altering the way their brains work and develop. Many scholars believe that it is, in fact, reducing their attention spans. In a New York Times article on the matter, one high school student was quoted (on the topic of YouTube), “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” he explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.” That turns us as teachers and parents into the equivalent of a YouTube star or a well-known singer. We are now required to be entertainers. “Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.”

So how do we engage today’s students? Easy — we get their hands dirty (and, inevitably, their shirts – sorry about that).

Simply put, busy hands equate to busy brains.

At Monarch Christian School, hands-on learning is an integral part of our philosophy of education. “Students experience learning through a hands-on, comprehensive approach as they view curriculum and learning through a Christ-centered, Biblical worldview. The creativity demonstrated in teaching and in the learning process makes education memorable and meaningful. Because teaching is child-centered and learning is guided by the teacher, learning transforms the minds and lives of students.”

Hands-on activities that involve movement, language, and dexterity activate multiple parts of the brain. Not only that, but often these activates cater to multiple preferred learning styles at once (kinesthetic, linguistic, spatial, etc.). “Hands-on projects obviously engage kids who are tactile or kinesthetic learners, who need movement to learn best. They also engage students who are auditory learners, who talk about what they’re doing, and visual learners, who have the opportunity to see what everyone else is creating. For social learners, the time spent in small group conversation will strengthen their knowledge.” (Scholastic)

Here are some examples of successful hands-on activities that have been tried and true for Monarch Teachers:

Math: Students have built “tiny-houses” and have calculated the area and perimeter of items located in the house, as well as the house itself! Fun and relevant!

Science: Students have recreated the rock cycle using starbursts! These starburst “rocks” take on different forms as they are smashed, melted, cooled, and more! This activity makes science absolutely delicious!

Social Studies: As students learn about the Californios and how important trade was to the start of California, they participate in an activity known as, “barter bags.” Each student has multiple items in their bag. Using one-to-one trades, each student must end up having one of each item before the time runs out! This hands-on activity is highly motivating because if the task is completed, each student gets to keep their bag!

Reading: While reading the novel, James and the Giant Peach, our fourth graders love creating peach recipes like peach cobbler, peach tarts, peach smoothies, and more! As they use their five senses, they are able to better apply their senses while reading to help them make mental images!

Hands-on activities bring our curriculum to life, allowing our students to truly experience what it is they are learning. After all, I think we can all pretty much agree that it would be very difficult to learn to ride a bike simply by reading a book.

About the Author

Growing up Shannon was always told she was going to be a teacher. This, of course, caused her to rebel and get a degree in Consumer Affairs with an emphasis in Public Relations. After college, God made it abundantly clear that the classroom was her calling, so she returned to school to earn her multiple subject credential. Her background in marketing and PR has allowed her to find new ways to market her curriculum to her target demographic – her students. Shannon is now in her fourth year at Monarch and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.


Character Counts

The importance of creating a character curriculum

By Kelly McGowan

As adults, when is the last time you thought about your second-grade math lessons or your fourth-grade grammar test? (And yes, I realize my boss is reading this) As technology becomes increasingly more pervasive in our world, so does the embarrassing fact that most people do not know the difference between their, there, and they’re. I have read so many Facebook status’ that make me cringe when I realize that someone used the wrong version of a homophone. Come on people! And honestly, when looking for a spouse, I really don’t think the majority of people have ‘good speller’ at the top of their checklist (except me, maybe that is why I am still single).

Thomas Hoerr in The Formative Five writes when commenting on how schools should measure their success, “…you should be asking yourselves whether your students are going to be productive and happy citizens at age 25,45, and 65. What kind of adults will they be? Will they be good spouses, good friends, and good parents? Will they be respectful and honest, and will they work to make the world a better place?”

In no way am I saying that academics are not important; I am a teacher after all. However, maybe it is time for schools, teachers, and parents to stop and think for a minute about if their kids are good students AND good people. “Who you are is more important than what you know” (Hoerr, pg. 5). We have all had the argument with someone who HAD to be right. We have all been made to feel ignorant when we were wrong about something. What happened to the ‘Golden Rule’, treat others the way you want to be treated. As our world gets more and more iPad and iPhone focused, I worry that we as people get less and less empathetic as well as less and less able to have successful relationships.

So, what do we do about it? Well, just as we must be explicit in our teaching of mathematics, reading, and writing, why wouldn’t we do the same for positive character? If these methods are proven to work in helping students master content then they should be used with everything we want students to know. There is a plethora of character curriculums available to schools and I wouldn’t necessarily say that one is better than the other but I would say that every school needs one. Research showsthat character curriculums have positive impacts on schools and their performance. According to the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, a school in the UK had disruptive incidences in class drop from 17.83 to 2.17 after implementing a character curriculum. University of Minnesota did a study comparing a school with a character education to one without a character education program. It was found that the school with the program found less disruptions, and less verbal and physical aggression.

These two simple examples prove that beyond a character curriculum benefiting our students as people, it will also benefit their learning environment, which will in turn have a positive effect on their academic achievement. Creating a positive culture at school helps to relieve anxiety for students and in turn, increases their ability to function positively and learn successfully.

The following list of character traits have been chosen as a focus at Monarch Christian School:

1. Empathy
Being able to view a situation from another’s perspective could radically change how you treat someone. It is important for students to understand how their actions affect other people.

2. Self-control
Here is something that as adults helps us (most of the time) to not just say what we are thinking. There will always be things better left unsaid and undone, self-control helps us to control ourselves in order to save relationships (and waist lines).

3. Integrity
Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Take responsibility for your actions. We all make mistakes, owning them speaks volumes about your character.

4. Embracing Diversity
This is a tough one. Our world wants us to let everyone be exactly who they want to be no matter what. From a Biblical Worldview, there is a fine line to walk between accepting everyone and loving everyone. You do not have to agree with someone in order to show them love and respect. God made all of us and therefore everyone deserves love.

5. Grit
I find this trait to be one of the most important. We have so much instant gratification these days and things come on demand. Having to work hard for something is not all that common anymore. When a student does not understand something right away they are often immediately discouraged and stop trying. What happened to having to think and work problems out? Our students are getting lazy and entitled. It is time we teach them what it is like to have to put in effort to accomplish something.

Looking at the state that our world is in and knowing that our children are the future I want to make sure that the generation being poured into now becomes one that is thoughtful, kind, and hard working. As educators and as parents we have the opportunity to help shape these kiddos into prideful monsters or humble servants. Let’s work together and make the wiser choice.

About the Author
Growing up as a performer, Kelly has always enjoyed being in front of an audience. Teaching elementary school has become one of her favorite stages in front of some of her favorite spectators. Kelly is in her fifth year of teaching at Monarch Christian School and feels so privileged to be part of such an excellent staff. As a graduate student in Educational Leadership at CLU, Kelly is excited to be learning and growing in her profession as an educator. Being a lifelong learner herself contributes to the excitement and enthusiasm she brings to her students everyday.