10 Ways to Incorporate More Play in the Classroom

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If you have been here awhile, you know I am a huge proponent of play in the classroom. I am truly blessed to teach in a school where my Kindergarteners play every day in the classroom and it is encouraged and supported. However, I know that isn’t the case for so many early childhood teachers around the world, so when I received this post – 10 Ways to Incorporate More Play in the Classroom, from Andrea, I knew it would be so valuable for teachers looking to increase play-based learning in any way they can!

*For engaging, hands-on centers for the entire year, grab our Pre-K and Kindergarten Centers by Skill BUNDLE!

These 10 ways to incorporate play in the classroom are great for any teacher to try play-based learning, even if you aren't "allowed" to play!

10 Ways to Incorporate More Play in the Classroom

We know we need more play in our classrooms, but we are pushed to meet academic standards. We are told, “Prepare students for testing.” Many teachers are discouraged from allowing students to “just play.” Fortunately, it IS possible to incorporate more play, meet academic standards, and maybe even convince others of the value of play while we are at it!

Here are 10 ways you can incorporate more playful learning in your classroom – starting today!

1. Create Play-Based Learning Centers

This is an easy way to sneak play into your daily routine. Whether traditional play centers (sand, dramatic play, blocks, etc.) or a collection of bins on a shelf, having play materials available is the first step to adding more play into your routine.

If you don’t yet have centers, start with a few bins and add things like puppets, blocks, puzzles, and games. Switch the contents often and connect them to classroom learning.

For instance, you might have:

  • Puppets for characters in a book you read together
  • Blocks with task cards relating to what you are learning in math (ex. build a castle that has 6 triangles)
  • A matching game of science concepts (ex. match the animal with their habitat)

2. Use Manipulatives

Young children are concrete learners who learn by doing. This is why play is such a powerful tool!

Instead of using pencil and paper to teach new concepts, use manipulatives.

They don’t have to be fancy teacher-store items either. I once had a class whose favorite manipulative was a big bucket of old keys!

Manipulatives aren’t just for math! I use:

  • Toy Cars to practice blending sounds
  • Slinkies for stretching out new words
  • Letter tiles for spelling
  • Legos for letter formation
  • Art materials for just about everything

3. Play Games

Use games to practice and review concepts. They don’t have to be complicated or even competitive.

Young students love:

  • Guessing games
  • Eye Spy
  • Hide-and-Seek type games
  • Solving puzzles together

4. Take Play Breaks

We know our students need breaks, and recess is often too short.

After a bit of hard learning, reward your students with a play break.

Pull out your learning centers and let them have a few minutes to relax and re-energize for your next lesson.

5. Take Your Learning Outside

There is lots of learning that can be done outside, no matter the weather.

My students have:

  • Created snow sculptures to represent the characters in a book
  • Practiced writing words in the snow and mud
  • Collected seeds, flowers, and grasses and sorted them, measured them, and divided them into fair shares
  • Found shapes in the playground structures
  • Gone hunting for letters and words

6. Use Puppets

Dramatic play is natural for children and puppets and stuffed animals that talk are quickly accepted as teachers and friends. What’s more, students will often listen and respond to a puppet in a way they never would for a teacher!

Puppets in my classroom often:

  • Approach the students with a problem for them to solve
  • Ask the students to teach them something (a great way to assess what your students have mastered and reinforce a concept for struggling learners at the same time)
  • Introduce a new song, game, or activity
  • Reinforce rules and manners

7. Act it Out

Instead of having students retell a story – act it out!

You can also act out:

  • Scientific processes
  • Mathematical operations
  • Concepts such as fractions, patterns, and ordinal numbers
  • Letter formation
  • Sentence structure
  • Social problem solving
  • And whatever else you can come up with!

Students love to be chosen to be actors and they will be fully engaged in learning!

8. Play with Your Students

When students are playing, don’t be shy – join in!

Playing together builds bonds with your students and creates a classroom community of shared learning and fun.

Plus, as a participant in the play, you have the ability to scaffold the students’ learning and to stretch them and challenge them and help them to grow!

9. Make Learning an Adventure

Imagine two intros to a lesson.

The first: “Today, we are going to learn about African animals.”

The second: “Today we are going to go on an adventure! We are going to take an airplane and fly to a place halfway around the world. While we are there, we are going to meet some weird and wonderful creatures that live in this amazing place. Are you ready to begin our journey?”

In the first lesson, the teacher might show some photographs of each animal and talk about each one. In the second lesson, the students actually pretend to get on a plane, land in Africa, and view the photos of animals placed around the classroom in the role of explorers in a new land.

Both lessons will teach the same content, but one feels like playing. The best part – to the students, a journey to a new place in their imagination is almost the same as being there, and they will remember the lesson months later.

10. Create Parent Buy-In

Parents love their children and want them to learn – and so do you!

If parents (or administration) are giving you a hard time about play in the classroom, try to show them all the learning that is happening.

Through my classroom blog I will often include a photograph of playful learning in action. I explain exactly what the students are learning and how I am assessing their learning through play. (In the days before blogging I used to do the same thing in my weekly newsletter.) This has gone a long way towards gaining support for play in the classroom.

No matter what, don’t give up! The power of playful learning is worth fighting for.

Andrea Sabean is a teacher who is passionate about early learning and play. After 14 years of teaching young children, she is now a college instructor, inspiring the next generation of early childhood educators. She is also an artisan who loves to bring children’s drawings to life, and shares her creative adventures on her blog: Artisan in the Woods.

Get Inspired to PLAY!

For even more inspiration check out these amazing quotes about play and while you’re there, be sure to grab the awesome FREEBIE pictured below… 3 of my favorite quotes about play turned into fun prints just for you!

Here are 3 of my favorite quotes about play turned into fun prints just for you!

Want to stress less with even more “must-try” tips while learning how to create a “Playful Learning” environment?

(even if you “aren’t allowed to play”)

If you’re wanting to incorporate playful learning, free-flowing centers, effective routines, and more in your Pre-K or Kindergarten classroom, then you’ll definitely want to join us in P.L.A.Y. (Playful Learning All Year)!

This P.L.A.Y. course is a deep dive into practical ways that you can create a playful learning environment in your classroom!

This course is a deep dive into practical ways that you can create a playful learning environment in your classroom. Be sure to request an invitation so you’re the first to hear when the virtual doors open!

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10 Ways to Incorporate More Play in the Classroom


  1. Thank you so much for having this! Inviting a parent in class is also a good way of engaging them in their child’s activities. It is also a good way of getting to know the kids more and their background.

    1. Vrinda,

      My students love puppets! It keeps them engaged and excited when we introduce new concepts or skills! 🙂

  2. Suzan
    Yes Suzanne, am really impressed with your way of teaching learners, you inspire me. I highly agree with you that this is the best way to teach learners especially to the young ones though it also works to high levels if planned well. What I have found out is that teachers take play as an extra added work because they lack skills on how to integrate play with the other learning areas and most of them especially have taken it for grated just because it is not examinable so teachers are mostly looking at passing but not content understanding and mastery. If all teachers would copy this method then learning will be enjoyable to learners. Bravo!

    1. Thanks so much, Suzan! We appreciate your feedback and are so happy to hear that you also believe in the importance of play. 🙂

  3. Love what you say about PLAY. I would love to share what you said with my colleagues. How can I print this without all of the ads?

    1. Hi Pam,
      Great question! Thank you for your sweet compliment too!
      Unfortunately we can’t remove the ads on a single post. But what you can do is send your colleagues the link to the post so they can read it. It actually will be more convenient if you send them a link by email so they can then read on their own time via laptop, tablet or mobile device.
      Thanks for being a member of our TKC community!

  4. I really enjoyed this post! I am actually working on a paper about play-based learning, and this has given me a lot of insight on where to go! do you have any tips or advice for research or personal knowledge?

  5. I absolutely love your post and feel exactly the same. There is so much pressure to squeeze in all of the standards that play is often ignored …we have started calling our self-selection time exploration investigation, in order to label it in a way that helps admin as well as parents see that it is a learning time as well. Frustrating that I feel the need to defend it…but it is what it is. Thanks for the post!

    1. Hi Stacey,
      We are happy to hear that you’ve found a way to keep play and exploration in your classroom schedule. Thanks for sharing your tip!

  6. I love how this post ends – the power of playful learning is worth fighting for. I think we all need to remember that in spite of the CCSS, these are still young children, and young children learn so much through play!

    1. Thanks so much Suzanne! Totally agree that play is worth the fight! We can’t forget that our kids are still little. 🙂

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