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Play-Based Education Used to Teach Conservation

September 03, 2008 02:42 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Outdoor play-based learning takes going green to another level, making environmentalism accessible to toddlers, while giving their brains a break.

Playing to Learn

In Wales, the first class of students to engage in a play-based learning program has begun school. The BBC reports that the program, which is still in a “foundation phase,” features outdoor classes and environmental learning for 3-year-olds through 7-year-olds.

According to British Education Minister Jane Hutt, “a key feature is using the outdoors to encourage children to learn about conservation and the environment,” but a lack of funding could stand in the way of the program’s success.

Play-based learning also incorporates aspects of the “green” trend. School gardens, for example, give students playtime outdoors, and provide lessons in horticulture and environmentalism.

In Meadville, Pa., the student-led garden at Seton Catholic School is meant to teach students about conservation, and has been named a National Wildlife Habitat. The garden acts as a food source for “a host of animals,” according to The Meadville Tribune, and is a fun activity for students.

Educators and parents who worry that school gardens and new play-based programs are too expensive could learn from a school in Beijing. According to China Daily, Hepingmen Kindergarten has incorporated conservation and play-based learning into its curriculum with nothing more than “discarded plastic bottles, paper boxes, disposable tableware, old newspapers and other trash.”

Young students are encouraged to make toys and exercise equipment with the discarded materials, teaching them “good daily habits, such as no littering and no wasting food or water,” while incorporating “creative play.” The school’s director Han Pinghua tells China Daily that the program is an introduction to resource conservation and “far more effective than tedious lectures.”

Background: International play-based learning

Play-based learning has already been implemented elsewhere, including schools in Norway, according to U.K. newspaper The Herald. Scotland’s Children’s Minister Adam Ingram traveled to Norway in August to learn more about classroom techniques, such as “the greater use of nature in lessons with outdoor kindergartens, and the focus on learning through play rather than formal lessons.”

Furthermore, in 2007, Australia’s federal opposition leader Kevin Rudd discussed his plan to provide a weekly play-based learning program for 4-year-olds. Labor party families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that play-based learning would be crucial to repairing Australia’s education system, and would aid working parents in need of preschool programs for younger children.

Related Topics: Extended kindergarten; mandatory recess

In British Columbia, education officials are considering offering extended kindergarten classes for children as young as 3 years old. According to an article in the Globe and Mail, and published on the Canadian site Childcare Resource and Research Unit, the program “would be play-based rather than a rigid curriculum.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, lawmakers and schools are still struggling to figure out how to incorporate recess and free time into school curriculums, both to combat obesity and improve productivity.

States such as Washington and Illinois have introduced legislation that would make free time mandatory during the school day, based on studies showing the benefits of classroom breaks on student concentration and performance.

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