Learning Through Play

Anyone who knows me well knows that math and I have never gotten along. I was able to keep up enough to pass but I never felt like I got it. Fractions were particularly difficult for me so I can empathize with our students who struggle to grasp certain concepts or subjects in school. It is easy to fall behind and harder and harder to catch up. While my parents and teachers did the groundwork to help me understand the general concept of fractions, it didn’t fully click until I looked at it in a different context...music.

I could read and understand music--that made sense to me. It was when I stopped thinking about the fractions as math I realized that I did understand them and had, in fact, been using fractions this whole time when subdividing musical measures and melodies. The skills were there but something about the formal classroom setting caused a disconnect. The only way for me to reconnect with these skills was to practice them in an area I felt skilled at and that I found enjoyable.

This is the basis of my theory on learning through play. Standard classroom learning can be an intimidating and sometimes cold environment. The last thing I want when facilitating a lesson is to have youth stressed or disengaged. I’ve noticed that our youth tend to loosen up when you take out the classroom feel and incorporate more abstract activities, competitions, and games.

This theory also is the reason that we introduced Skillz Lab this year. Skillz Lab offers a variety of activities for youth to engage in but the catch is that each activity is stimulating some area of their brain. For example, when you challenge a child to build the tallest lego tower, their mind is learning about engineering and architecture. In a Play-Doh version of a “Cake Boss” bake-off, a child’s sculpture is really just practicing concepts in fine art, color theory, and geometry. A simple activity surrounding planting seeds has youth inadvertently learning about living organisms and the science of botany. “Fill in the Caption” comic books are really just storytelling, dialogue, and writing in disguise.

Skillz Lab in particular is embodying our B-READY 2018-19 theme “Change Can’t Wait” by trying something radical with the hopes of a positive outcome. Within an afterschool setting, we are fighting an uphill battle by offering classroom structure after a child has already had a 6+ hour school day. In my opinion, it does us no good to pretend to be what we are not--in this case, teachers. This is especially true when you consider that learning is constant and limitless and that humans learn a variety of ways. The formal classroom setting has already been provided by each of their schools. What we can provide is the supplemental practice and real-life application of those learnings. What we can provide is play.

By Vicky Ajene, Manager of Academic and Enrichment Programs.