In the early elementary grades a lot of learning in incidental. Children learn well by moving around in a space full of opportunities to speak, listen and try different things. A workbook or textbook assignment is better understood by young children when they get the chance to put what they’ve learned into action. That’s why teachers and parents want to give some careful attention to designing a child’s play space so that it functions well as a space to learn.
I’ve spent over a decade being an educator. I quickly learned the importance of providing children with engaging ways to help them learn. Since I started teaching, I’ve been on the hunt for really good ways to get kids actively involved in the learning process. Along the way I’ve found that active involvement is what really gets a child engaged. That’s why I do my best to fill the “play” areas I design with lots of opportunities for active involvement.
I believe a young child’s play space is best filled with toys that bring imaginations to life. Wooden blocks, snapping blocks, kitchen areas, dress up clothes, sand tables and art areas typically fill a young child’s “play” area. These are all excellent choices for playing and learning, but I’d like to add one more choice to the list: puppet play. A pile of puppets and a good puppet theater will get a child talking up a storm. When kids start interacting with puppets they start understanding that communication is important. Now they have an exciting reason to want to write, read and tell stories: to bring their puppet to life! This is active involvement in learning at just about its best.
Early reading skills are taught but they are also cultivated. One of my favorite activities for cultivating early reading skills is simple sock puppet play. My second graders were huge enthusiasts of sock puppets. They’d spend hours creating them and even more time creating their personalities. I loved to sit and watch the learning opportunities explode around me. Plays would be written, quotation marks would be used for the first time, children would read with greater voice inflection and story structure would suddenly become important to a seven year old. All I did was set up the opportunity for involvement and the learning happened all on its own. I quickly found that the things children will naturally do with a puppet will also help them develop important early reading skills. It was very exciting.
When I saw how a puppet or a marionette could enhance a play space, I was ready to bring a puppet play area into my classroom. A simple cardboard box, some paints and a couple of kids were enough to generate a puppet stage. Along with our large collection of home made sock puppet, the kids brought their own puppets and marionettes from home. Over time, I purchased a few really special puppets and marionettes. I brought them out to when I needed to grab my student’s attention when it was time to teach something new. During open play many children would gravitate to the puppet play area. This play area was a great addition to my classroom play space.
Today, I’m a mom so I’ve become the teacher of my own children. I don’t want to give my own kids anything less than what I provided my students when it was time for me to educate them. When my kids play they have the same opportunities for the active learning that filled my classroom. I continue to love traditional toys that spark children’s imaginations and encourage learning. That’s why puppets are in our play space. Puppets and marionettes developed my student’s early reading skills, and now they are doing the same for my own kids. Like it was in my classroom, today my children’s play room is a place to learn.