Teaching Through Open-Ended Play

Katie Mitchell
Katie Mitchell
September 02, 2021 3 min read

Your child's imagination is practically endless. You may have noticed that something as simple as a cardboard paper towel tube may be brought to life in dozens of new ways! It can be a telescope used to navigate the galaxies as they sail away into space; they might 'stalk' your pets as they roam the African savannah of your home. Or, they can use that roll to announce the play-by-play of the final game of the World Series. A simple piece of cardboard suddenly holds almost limitless potential!

Our kiddos absorb almost everything in their environment. Their fast-developing brains are constantly inundated with new and exciting information to process, store, and hopefully understand! Because kids are presented with all these fresh things to understand at such a rapid pace, they need healthy ways to decipher and decode this information. Your child will then store the information in their mind in their own unique way! Enter storytelling - an amazing tool that kiddos naturally gravitate toward, and that we as grown-ups can help them develop. 

You may have noticed that when your young kids are playing, their stories are full of plot holes and have little to no recognizable storyline development. As long as their pretend play is a source of happiness, linear plots and fuller storylines will come with time. Still, you can turn these tales into a learning experience! Small lessons can be organically introduced into your child's playtime. Who ever said learning has to be boring?! Certainly not any of Team BtB! For some grown-ups, this may come naturally. If it doesn't? We've got you. And if it does? We hope this post will be a helpful refresher and that maybe you'll even gain a new idea or two!

So, here are a few ways you can teach through play:

Help Your Child Identify the "3 Ps"

Whether they're performing a show for you or want you to join in on creative play, their story will carry (however loosely) these three things: a person, a place, and a plot. How developed each of these elements are will depend on the age of your kiddo, of course. And the word "person" is used loosely as characters in kids' stories often are not people at all! The main character of the story may be a dragon, a dolphin, or a dancing bear. You don't need to tell your child that you're identifying the 3 Ps - just help them do so through the natural course of conversation or imaginative play. You can also bring your own creativity to the table, and work in a life lesson, a bit of teaching, or some fun facts that are relevant to the story ... errr ... plot. The point is not to put a damper on their play by teaching, but to enhance its value.

Look for Natural Teachable Moments

If your kiddo hasn't reached kindergarten age yet, this may be easier said than done. Toddlers and preschool age kids love to be silly! You might have to get pretty creative. For example, you could decide treat the aforementioned dragon to a charred cupcake ... but only after it washes its claws! No matter the age of your child, there's almost always an opportunity to sneak in a little education.

Talk it Out

As playtime comes to a natural close, you can take this quieter time to chat with your kiddo about what took place. "Do you think dragons are real?" "Would a dragon really wash its claws before eating a treat?" "Why do people wash their hands before eating?" When we ask questions, we not only show our kids that we're interested in their play, we also allow them to tell us how much they understand about certain things, and how we can help them grow!

How do you teach during playtime? We always love to hear from you, so please leave your tips in the comments, or message us on social media @beyondtheblackboard.


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