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PBEL - Play Based Experiential Learning

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An approach to early education where content is presented in rich, experiential ways by caring adults, combined with children’s own play that is freely chosen and self-directed.

 

Play- Based Experiential Learning (PBEL) is an approach to early education where content is presented in rich, experiential ways by caring adults, combined with children’s own play that is freely chosen and self-directed. The acronym represents the first stepping stones toward formal learning.

Often when adults hear “play” mentioned in conjunction with schooling, they view it as a waste of time or a frightening, chaotic experience. But when child-initiated play is part of a well-balanced preschool or kindergarten it helps children make sense of the content they are learning. They try it on and make it their own. Then learning goes all the way to their finger tips and toes and does not just stay in their heads.

 

A classroom rich in play and experiential learning is neither chaotic where anything goes nor highly structured where the eyes of the children are aimed at the teacher for lengthy periods. On a continuum from a chaotic classroom to an over-structured one, PBEL is in the middle.

kindergarten continuum

Laissez-faire classroom:

Much play and child-initiated activity but with little or no support from the teachers. The play often sinks into chaos.

 

Playful classroom:

Rich in child-initiated, self-directed play with appropriate support from teachers

 

Content-rich classroom:

Teachers provide developmentally appropriate content in hands-on, experiential ways

 

Didactic classroom:

Teacher-led instruction is the dominant form of education and can include scripted programs. 

 

The middle two comprise a play based experiential classroom that is high in child-initiated activity and high in teacher input. The role of the teacher is vital but subtle when supporting the children’s own play. She is present but does not direct or dominate the play.

 

To prepare and support teachers for play based learning, teachers will benefit from a high quality teacher education program that is rich in child development, play, and active learning.  In addition to participating in high quality teacher education programs, teachers also need time for ongoing- collaboration, continuing education, and coaching. 

Reflections From the Field

It is with great honor that I am given the chance to reflect on the value and importance of “Play” in my classroom. This is my 24th year of teaching within Oakland Unified School District. I have taught grades Kindergarten through 3rd Grade and for the last three years, I have taught Transitional Kindergarten. And I must say, the last three years of teaching, I have enjoyed the most. Just seeing the transformation of 4 year old students who enter my classroom in August, turn 5 years old shortly after, grow, develop, and become ready to move on to Kindergarten, is totally amazing. But believe me when I say, all year long, it is a constant work in progress. A day does not go by without at least one child asking if we are going to have Center Time or Play Time. And even if I wanted to skip Center Time, my little ones would not let me. Center Time (play), is their Work Time. Through “Play”, and because of “Play”, there is so much growth in my students’ small motor skills. ... Read More