Purposeful Play – how the book changed my teaching

Purposeful Play – BUY IT! READ IT! LIVE IT!

Yesterday I saw this Facebook post in a group I’m in – Simply Kinder– about Common Core and Play based learning.:

img_6134

This got me thinking: Are CCSS and Play mutually exclusive? Does it have to be either or or can it be a yes and? My opinion – NO! They go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong!

Purposeful Play is a game changing book by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler. I have been  big on incorporating play and being developmentally appropriate since college (Thanks Dr. Mira Berkley and SUNY Fredionia). Play based learning is my passion. But little did I know, I’ve been doing it all wrong! I was on the right track but there’s a better way. Here’s my reflection using a Visible Thinking routine I love –  I used to think… But now I know… after reading Purposeful Play:

I used to think…

Play is centers, free choice time, and recess. Lots of learning happens during play. Play is good for all ages. Play is a safe time for children to take risks. Play can support all subject areas. Direct instruction happens during subject area blocks. Students can take what they learn during direct instruction and try it out during play.

But now I know…

Play is centers, free choice time, and recess. Lots of learning happens during play. Play is good for all ages. Play is a safe time for children to take risks. Play can support all subject areas. Direct instruction happens during subject area blocks. Students can take what they learn during direct instruction and try it out during play.  Play is the glue that holds it all together. Play is a mindset and a method. Play should not be separate from my standards and objectives.

It’s not like me to read something mind-blowing and take no action. Here’s how I changed my teaching after reading Purposeful Play:

  1. Transition time now includes more singing or movement themes (hop like a kangaroo, crawl like an inchworm, etc.)
  2. During reading, writing, and math mini lessons children act like a spy to watch what I’m doing. “Put on your spy goggles!”
  3. I do collaborative activities and tasks every chance I get!
  4. Cleaning up the room is a game called treasure trash- Who ever can find the secret piece of trash I’m thinking of wins! (hint: the treasure trash is usually the last thing I see)
  5. I got puppets for literacy centers for children to act out stories!
  6. Inquiry focus – I have a Wonder Wall in my classroom (no not the Oasis song, photo below), I’m incorporating PBLs (another great book – Hacking PBL)

I still have a lot of work to become better and be more Play Based. Here are my action steps:

  1. Teach mini lessons before choice time and recess to help children collaborate, communicate, and problem solve. The book has some great ideas to use as a starting point and some amazing examples of anchor charts.
  2. Add more share time with my class. I’m really bad about this. We need to be sharing after independent and partner reading, after writing, after math stations, after choice time, and at the end of the day. Kids can learn from each other as much as they can learn from me.

Biggest take away = be playful through instruction and everyday tasks. While choice time is important you can incorporate play in other ways.

My Knowledge of Content Knowledge

Here I sit on an airplane on my way home for the holidays and all I can do is reflect on my teaching. It’s the end of December the universal time for reflection. It’s hard not to end the year and prepare for the next and not reflect on life in general. My professional resolution this year is momentum. I want to continue the momentum from #wonderwake and all that I learned and challenged myself to begin. I’m ending 2016 with a blog post and I’ll begin 2017 with another. 

This post was meant to be me reflecting on Standard 3 of the NC teacher evaluation standards. But, as I started to type it turned into my talking about a math lesson I taught in the hallway the last day before winter break and a track out. However I think this lesson I ramble about is a great example of how I meet this teaching standard. 

I started out on my plan to dissect standards :

Standard 3 -Teachers know the content they teach – align to standard course of study, content appropriate to teaching specialty, recognize interconnectedness of content areas, make instruction relevant 

My curriculum is based on the North Carolina Standard accursed of Study based on the Common Core State Standards. I am tasked with teaching 5 year olds to read and write, to understand how numbers work, basic science concepts (animals, weather, and properties), basic social studies concepts (citizenship, economics, cultural similarities and differences, and maps). I love that the standards I teach were written vertically. You can choose any strand and follow it all the way up through high school. I think this is so important for the students. It gives a purpose for every small piece I teach. Everything builds on the grades before and challenges students to learn more and think deeper. 

Here’s what I’ve learned about my curriculum- basic is not basic at all! Teaching a child to read and write in 9 short months is nothing short of a miracle! There are times I’m not even sure how it happened! Students in kindergarten come in with the widest range of background knowledge than any other grade level! (Here’s where the ramble begins) For example- my current unit in math is geometry. Yes geometry in kindergarten! We learn 2 D shapes, 3D shapes, Positional words, comparing and building shapes. I have students who have not had any experience with any shapes and others who know basic shapes (circle, square, triangle…), and others who know it all already! Here are 2 of my students explaining. How they are exploring shapes. My friend in green took the lead. My friend in red is a little embarrassed to be on camera! 😄


My job is to take what they know and teach them what they need to know. If they already know it I need to teach them a deeper understanding and how to use their knowledge to teach others. Tasking students with tutoring a peer who struggles is a great way to deepen their understanding. Teaching another student requires a child to think about it in a different way. 

This lesson took place in the main hall at my school. We are a year round school and on our track out days I end up with out a physical classroom and need to be creative and flexible about where and how I teach. This was a shape hunting lesson- look for shapes in your world around you. How do they make up real things? (eh hem – engineering) pretty things? (errr – art) etc. My challenge is to not only have students who don’t know shapes to find and identify them but for students who do know shapes to describe, compare, and teach them.

In the video above Green was peer tutoring Red in shapes. He learned so much from her in 10 minutes that would have taken me at least 2 small group sessions to teach him. As they hunted for shapes they took videos using Chatter Pix Kids and SeeSaw (2 of my favorite apps to smash – if you don’t know them you need to explore!) Here’s Red’s post on SeeSaw after Green helped him hunt for shapes.

What do you think? Was my lesson here relevant? Connected? Appropriate? Aligned to standards?