#playingtolearn {and a Lakeshore giveaway!}

Hi there and thanks so much for stopping in today for this post and giveaway! I have eluded to this blog post for a lonnnng time and it’s here finally!  So, I hope it’s worth the wait HA!  Basically I drug my feet for the blog post because I wasn’t exactly confident that I could do this subject matter justice…that is the subject of adding play back INTO our classrooms.  I kind of felt like I wasn’t that “fun enough” teacher that could really relay the message to all of you, but I realized that there isn’t any right or wrong way to explain it…and as teachers we are going to automatically tweak any idea given to us to fit our kiddos needs!  So, here are my thoughts on PLAY in the classroom….

Last spring my sister who also taught kindergarten with my team {she is staying home this year because she is expecting} walked into the teacher’s lounge and shared with us this article she read about the importance of play in the classroom.  I immediately became defensive and said, “What are you talking about, we play everyday!”  You see my students, my class, they are my everything and I NEVER want to think that I could be doing more for them and I’m slacking…and I for sure never want to think I am “hurting” their education in anyway.  So, I took a step back and thought about my classroom day.  We were learning a lot, I mean a ton!  The kids seemed happy enough…I mean they would ask every once in awhile we didn’t get to play with the playdoh everyday like at the beginning of the year, but I simply explained the reasoning behind that and we went on.

So, another month went by and I was really trying hard to be that fun teacher and it was actually easier than I thought…I mean pull out the buzzers when practicing addition facts and using blocks to build structures that were taller or shorter when studying measurement was easy.  I quickly became obsessed with adding in play to my room {I’m a zero to sixty kind of person}.  I approached my principal when it was time to order supplies for next year and expressed my new love for “fun” in the kindergarten and she totally got it and was on board!  She ordered us some new goodies for the year and set a plan in motion for the following school year!

You guys it wasn’t until these new goodies came in and I went ahead and opened them up {like I can just leave them in the classroom without the kids noticing the NEW TOYS} that I truly understood the JOY that came from PLAYING in the classroom!  I’m telling  you what…it was pure excitement!!!!  

In knowing what joy play can bring to the classroom I also think that it is VERY important that we discuss what exactly play is.  A lot of times teachers would message me or email me saying…”Don’t you play during your school day…how sad!”  And remember that teacher up there ^^^ that takes it personally if she is not being the best she can be for her students yeah that was me when I received those messages.  However, even with my new love for play in the classroom you won’t see my schedule changing much. EEK why not?  This is why…..we all have a different idea on what play is, but play is simply defined as doing activities for fun and enjoyment.  So, we know our kiddos they can have fun doing anything outside the box and enjoyment can come from many experiences within the classroom that don’t necessarily look like traditional “play.”

We have an idea that play is only when we let the kids go on the playground or when we let them play drama {not knocking these I’m all about recess AND don’t worry my bloggy bud KinderGlynn hooked me up with puppets galore}.  However, our students can play AKA have fun and enjoyment from a wide range of activities/tasks that 1. are content focused 2. still fit into your classroom day without rearranging schedules.  Okay, before we get into all the background of play and what the experts here is a little video about play and how it progresses as children grow!

Below is an excerpt from Instructor.

“Proponents of ramping up standards in early elementary education tend to focus on the numbers. More children learning to read or do math sooner must be good. But these achievements may come at the expense of other skills kids need to learn, such as self-reliance, problem-solving, and spatial thinking.”

That paragraph is very powerful as no teacher will ever disagree that their students come into kindergarten with a lack of social skills, problem-solving skills, and even a lack of imaginative skills!  These are all areas that our kindergartners should have and NEED to have…yet they are lacking!  So, when thinking about that…it’s nothing we did wrong as their first teacher!  The fact of the matter is the world around us is changing vastly. Our students are not “playing” at home like  when we were kids.  They are using technology more and sometimes they are skipping those major milestones in play development.

Also, the standards placed on us and the framework of our schedules have reduced the amount of play time dramatically.  This may or may not be your case, but for the most part students are getting less “free play” and more structured time within their classroom day.  

So, we know that our kids NEED play, but come on we can’t not learn our material and we won’t be able to just go to recess all day…what do I do????  Well, here are my thoughts…we must find ways that our students can play to learn!  In the midst of playing they are learning!  I would like to show you a couple examples so you see what I mean!  The photographs were taken right after we got our new goodies!  The kids were BEGGING to play, but I needed to find a way to incorporate them into our learning.

In math we were practicing counting on.  We were using snap cubes…effective, but we had used them ALL.YEAR.LONG.  So, on this day we pulled out the new toys.  The students were working with their math partners…they would take turns rolling the number and then the dot cube.  They counted on from the number cube so below would be.. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.  The students then pulled out that many toys to start their creation.  Each time they rolled and got the answer that many toys were added.  Did they realize they were learning and playing?  Well, maybe…but did they care?  Heck no because they were having so much FUN!

These kiddos were using magna tiles and by the end of this number sense game they had made a “castle.”
You see…adding play into our learning IS possible…honestly is just takes more thought time on our part! Do I think we need more play in our classrooms? YES!  Do I think we need to kick and scream and throw stones to play more? No..not necessarily.  I think we are doing the best we can with the hands we are dealt.  For the most part I will assume most of us have standards we have to teach to…and since we cannot change that ourselves we have to adapt and  make the best of the situation!  I just encourage you to have a “play state of mind” when planning your lessons…if there is a way to bring in a hands-on way to practice the concept then try that!  If it is sorting cards at the carpet or a worksheet possibly do the sort a few times a week and the worksheet the other couple!  I totally believe that we DO have the capability to bring in play and fun back to kindergarten….it will just be us finding ways to do it that keeps us close to the content we are teaching!  In my classroom I will be finding ways to get my kids “hands-on” ways to learn the skill.  We will also be taking time to teach important life skills life sharing, taking turns, resolving disputes, and we will be learning how to play alongside our peers!  Also, be mindful that a lot of the pictures I show below are the kids using materials, but these materials do not have to be store bought…just changing up the way we teach every so often will really make it fun and enjoyable for the students AKA >>>playful!

 So, below I would like to show you some ways I started to add in play to my classroom.  Now, remember we didn’t start this until April-May so I will continue to come up with additional ideas for play in our day as this new year starts!  I would also like to disclaim that I am not paid and did not receive any payment from Lakeshore Learning to do this post.  No teacher has time to read a sales pitch…it just happened that my principal ordered from there and I *love* Lakeshore and ordered additional material from there!

Okay let’s get started!

On this day we were working on sorting by attributes…these kiddos sorted the Lakeshore 3D builders by color!  Sorting and playing!

These kiddos sorted the blocks by size!  Oh and built towers in the meantime…towers are always a good time πŸ˜‰

“Mrs. West you said we could use the LEGOS during math?!?!”  Yes!  HA!  These kiddos sorted the legos by color/size!

In the following pictures we were working on making combinations of ten in math.  The students would roll the ten-sided number cube and place that many counters to the side and their partner would then say would number would make ten!

Same make ten fun with family counters!
This was another make ten math lesson and I made these T-Shirt maths as a way for the students to use their snap cubes as “buttons.”  Nothing original, but did allow for a breakaway from the usual!

This was a quick and FUN math “battleship” number sense game the kiddos played!  Each kiddo had a number board and some teddy bear counters.  The students would place their teddy bear on a number and then partner B would say something like, “Do you have a teddy bear on the number that is one more than 16?”  If they guessed correctly they got to place that teddy bear on their board!  Learning?  Yes!  Fun?  Uh-huh!

On this day we were working on our addition facts so we took our chalk outside and answered our problems!  I would state an addition problem and the kiddos would write the problem and answer! Seriously they thought I was  the most awesome teacher this day lol!

Here is an example of addition work!  On this day I pulled out my JUMBO playing cards and they got to turn over two cards at a time and answer!

I snagged these answer buzzers from the Lakshore store one night they were for sure a HIT!  I’m pretty sure you can review anything with relay answer teams πŸ˜‰

During our study of the three billy goats the kiddos got to make their own bridge and character sticks!  They were reenacting the poem and it was adorable!

We also performed the play using our masks for staff members!  OH MY the cutest!!!

We also took a few minutes to use our playdoh to make that mean old troll! <<< playdoh win for me! πŸ˜‰

Crafts!  Bring them baaaaaacccck!  You’ll see a craft every week in my KinderLiteracy plans!  Crafts spark creativity and not to mention they are fun! πŸ™‚

Poetry is also fun and provides enjoyment {the definition of play}!  Poetry is something that I truly noticed my kids lacking…they didn’t know nursery rhymes so we have fixed that!!!  And why I included every week in my KinderLiteracy units!  

Playdoh!  I know it doesn’t need an explanation! πŸ™‚

I ordered this huge bucket of cookie cutters from Amazon here!  They were loved by all πŸ˜‰
We also had a lot of fun last year with our PlayStix and Lincoln logs!  If you have these kinds of “toys” at home from your own kiddos or can grab them at garage sale they are always loved!

Alright, now that I have this new outlook on play in the classroom I got a few new things to help me! πŸ˜‰

I just had to have this letter construction set!  Hands-on and “fun!”

I did not  have a lot of dramatic play items in my classroom so I am slowly building that collection back up! I was able to get this castle play set at Walmart for $7 on clearance!

I also loved this animal match-up activity!  Pretty sure you could make something like this for your room easily!

I also needed a Mr. Potato head…was I the only one without one? :'( ha!  I am thinking we can for sure use him during math…possibly roll the dot cube and you get to add that many pieces to him!

I also did not have any playdoh cutters for math!  So, I now have an instant fun and engaging math center!

The look of my classroom layout also changed with this new play insight! Basically I had all these new goodies and needed a place to store them!  I could store my 2 puzzles, box of playdoh, and set of puppets in the closet, but now I had too much fun-ness to fit!

What is in all those bins?  Mostly all my Lakeshore goodies!  When I approached my principal I knew that I needed to show her meaningful activities and activities that would involve fine motor work and activities that sparked creativity!  Here is a look into the containers!  All of these are Lakeshore goodies!  I’ll start with top left!  This is part of the following directions set 3 {I’ll explain it more below}.  Top right is nuts and bots…hello fine motor!  The middle pictures are creature builders, 3d builders, and magna tiles!  The bottom is gear builders, and design builders!

I mentioned the following directions bundles!  They are truly awesome!  I was a *fun* teacher and opened these up as one of our choices during daily five.  And being that *not so fun* teacher I was sure worried that they would become a distraction for the other learners but they didn’t one bit!  The kiddos worked hard on them and the others worked on their on work until it was their turn!  They have step-by-step directions and the students are able to easily follow along and be so proud of their finished creation!

Talk about proud…look at this guy’s work!

And GUESS WHAT?!  Lakeshore is so generously letting me giveaway one complete Following Directions bundle to one of you! YIPPEE!!!!  You see from below that this set comes with following directions 1, 2, and 3! Click picture below to see more!

To enter the giveaway you’ll sign up below on the rafflecopter!  You’ll just leave a comment below before you leave the page stating how you will add in #playingtolearn within your classroom this year!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Okay, how about some easy and practical ways to add in #playingtolearn within your classroom!

Let’s talk about the hashtag #playingtolearn!  When you are using play as a way to engage learners in your classroom this year you can use the hashtag #playingtolearn!  That way when we search the hashtag we can see what our other fabulous teachers are up to!  Here is a post I did last year…

Anyway, if you are mid-lesson and think that to yourself…“Wow this is an awesome way to integrate play into the lesson I should share with others” you can do so with the hashtag! πŸ™‚

This summer I found several fun freebies I am prepping for this new year!


I wanted to share with you a few personal goals I have set for myself this upcoming school year when it comes to #playingtolearn

1.  I will allow more time to EXPLORE
2. I will bring back DRAMA
3.  I will let the students guide more of our learning through their interests

Well, I sure hope I shed a little light on this subject matter…I think it’s something that will for sure to grow and grow and *hopefully* will be the next upward trend in education as I firmly believe that we can get that same educational success when we take time to slow down and enjoy the fact that we are five and six!  Again, please comment below how you plan to add in #playingtolearn within your classroom and enter the rafflecopter above to win the Lakeshore set!  Thanks so much!


  1. I've already managed to encorporate a lot of #playingtolearn activities in my class but am in desperate need of more construction toys. The "following directions" bundle looks fantastic and is sure to be a big hit in my room!

  2. Thank you for a great post! I too have struggled with the balance of knowing that they need play, but struggling with how to make it work. Some of your ideas are fantastic. I have tried to incorporate play a bit in our math lessons by using imagination. We have been surgeons that are matching numbers to tens frames and other things to make matching games more fun.

  3. Play-doh, Legos, Aaron's Magic Putty, & magnetic gizmos have all been favorites of the kids. I am a firm believer in kids having the opportunity to play. I will continue to use play in every lesson possible!!!!

  4. I leave 25 minutes at the end of everyday for exploration time. The students have a station at their table for the 25 minutes and then they rotate each day. I have different work stations that incorporate play, legos, playdoh, magnets, shells and rocks exploration, farm toys, blocks, and always a craft every rotation. I prefer your definition of play. I have been very strict about making my classroom not look like a trip to Toys R' Us. Thank you for creating play based learning ideas!

  5. I have been feeling soooooo guilty for not having more play and really appreciate you sharing how I can be much better at including ways for pay with the children in their everyday activities. They LOVE to get to use manipulatives and just by changing these makes learning more fun! Math and acting out stories to retell are wonderful ways/opportunities for this! I just need more of these "play" materials and would be too excited to get some cool new ones like those awesome sets with even following directions for extended learning! WOW! I am going to steal all my own kids things for school too! Your ideas have been extra helpful and I will be including much more play during lessons and all the indoor recess time we have. Thank you again!

  6. I have been feeling soooooo guilty for not having more play and really appreciate you sharing how I can be much better at including ways for pay with the children in their everyday activities. They LOVE to get to use manipulatives and just by changing these makes learning more fun! Math and acting out stories to retell are wonderful ways/opportunities for this! I just need more of these "play" materials and would be too excited to get some cool new ones like those awesome sets with even following directions for extended learning! WOW! I am going to steal all my own kids things for school too! Your ideas have been extra helpful and I will be including much more play during lessons and all the indoor recess time we have. Thank you again!

  7. Great post! I have struggled with wondering am I "fun" enough too. It's definitely hard with all our minutes we have to meet for subject areas and standards to be creative with play but it's something I'm trying to get better at. πŸ™‚ Loved your ideas and Lakeshore always has my wallet. Haha!

  8. Tara, you are wealth of information and inspiration!! I definitely want to add more play into my Math block. It was all I could do last year(first year back teaching after being a SAHM for 18 years) to keep up with our new Math curriculum. My poor kiddos didn't get to play much πŸ™ Thank you for all these wonderful ideas!

  9. Great post Tara! Play is absolutely important in our classrooms! I have Free Choice 2-3 times per week for a short time where kids choose what to do. I like your way of incorporating play in your learning time, but also feel it's important for kids to have true choice and freedom to play. It builds community and language skills. I purchased and gathered many building toys last year. We called this time "engineering" where the whole class was creating, problem solving, building and yes, having fun! Playstix were a favorite! I love the direction sets and 3D builders. I'll look for those on my trip to Lakeshore. Have fun this school year while you #playtolearn!

  10. Bravo Tara! You are so lucky to have all these resources to use. I am on a scavenger hunt to find what I can to add to my K classroom! I am going back to K after 7 years in First and am looking to shake it up anyway. Lakeshore is amazing I wish I could have the entire Lakeshore store!

  11. I too plan to incorporate for play in the classroom this year. Even though I am moving from Kindergarten to first grade. Last year I noticed that so many kids didn't have the social skills to solve problems in the classroom. I contribute this to lack of play and social interaction. I used to use playtime as a reward for finished work. I believe that if I incorporate play into our lessons it will keep the students more engaged and therefore ultimately learning more.

  12. This year my goal is to do more play based centers for language arts and math. I hope to also add more crafts and fine motor activities. Incorporating this into my daily activities is something I am nervous about…I hope it isn't too difficult! I look forward to my Kinders having fun this year!

  13. Wow! Playing to learn is my big beef! Classroom SMILE when learning is taking place by play based activities. I've revamped my classroom strategies in literacy with exciting daily changes to close reads. Im volunteered to be the push in classroom where I need many different fun/hands on activities to read h my regular gen ed students as well as the see students . I've never done this before and am excited to see my students growth with learning by playing. My favorites are using logos for literacy, as well as replicating a construction number/letters. Pom poms, and plastic tweezers are another fun activity and letter beads and personal. Dice are another endless opportunity.

  14. I plan to use traditional play centers such as taking care of the baby, block play, and sensory tubs as the first 30 minutes of our day when kiddos come in. They need that transition time before the day begins, especially if it was a crazy morning where they were rushing out the door! I love using a variety of manipulatives and am so thankful our district just bought all new items for us to use in math. I can't wait to implement everything!

  15. As someone teaching kindergarten for the first time, I plan to embrace the concept of play in the classroom. I love the ideas presented in this post and can't wait to use them! The following directions sets would definitely help me move in this direction. Yay for play!

  16. We slowly started introducing play into our kinder program last year and I've spend the summer looking into ways that I can take it even further. Thank you for sharing your ideas! Can't wait to implement them in my classroom!

  17. As a new to Kindergarten teacher (coming from fifth grade! Ah!), I am always looking for new ideas. I think kids of all ages learn best when they feel like they are playing and not "learning". I would use the Following Directions Sets both in Math and Daily 5. I would love to use them at the beginning of the year when students are still learning to read the pictures, as opposed to being able to read the words. And in math when we are practicing number concepts. They are also great and simple STEM integrations.

  18. Our kindergarten team is making a big push to put play into our classrooms this year. Among other things, we are going to be bringing back dramatic play and incorporating literacy standards. Love those following direction sets. I can see those being great for so many social skills- following directions, persistence, teamwork.

  19. LOVE this blog and all the great ideas you shared. I plan to bring back the dramatic play center and rotate items/themes frequently to keep it fun, fresh and engaging. I'd also like to add more opportunities for learning through building/construction play.

  20. You are such an inspiration in so many ways! I am entering my 3rd year of teaching and your guided reading, Kinderphonics, close reads, math and literacy centers, and now KinderLiteracy bundles have all saved me over the last two years…and now you're inspiring me to do a better job of incorporating #playingtolearn in the classroom. Thank you for all of your suggestions and I will cross my fingers that I could be the lucky winner of the awesome lakeshore learning tools!

  21. I think my afternoon will allow for more #playingtolearn activities. I esp. love using toys like Mr. Potato Head and the Cars movie toy cars to inspire writing & stories. Lakeshore makes incorporating play fun and easy! I would LOVE to win–good luck to everyone!

  22. This post is exactly what I needed to read! I have been wanting to change how I teach somehow and this is something I need to re-introduce into my teaching! I wish I had enough room to store all the wonderful things we could use to #playtolearn with! I love lakeshore and that they have educational toys to play with! Good luck one and all!

    1. After thinking more on it, I really want to have more play during math. It is a short amount of time for me and I really want to use it more effectively! I know that through play the kids will gain more meaning as they learn more! I also hope they are able to put those math skills in they "core memory"!!!!

  23. Well, I plan to be the rebel on the K team this year. We will be #playingtolearn… I have purchased my own dramatic play and sensory table materials. Adding those to the blocks and other math activities that I implemented last year. I plan to put the fun and exploration back into my classroom!

  24. Tara, I love your blog posts and the materials you create, but this has to be one of my favorite posts. You are SO RIGHT that children learn through play. They develop cognitive and social skills through this important work – PLAY! Thank your for this post. With so much focus on common core standards and data collection – too much work has become paper/pencil or computer-based. Recesses are being cut from schedules to make room for more academic learning time. Thank you for advocating for children!

  25. Thanks for this post. It's always great to be reminded that even though the standards are getting really high, they can still play and learn so much.
    Lori West

  26. Love this blog! I've always been a big advocate for learning through play. I posted a link to your blog and the YouTube video as well as Tweeted it. I think it's important for people to understand how our little people learn. Thank you for this!

  27. Many of my students come in with low language skills. I have always included play in with centers. But now I am inspired to play during my lessons too. My school year just got a whole lot better!

  28. Since my move to kindergarten from 4th grade three years ago, I have made sure that I love being there by having fun. Watching the pain in the eyes of the veteran kindergarten teachers was tough. They had been there when PLAY was how our little ones learned, and then, it was all taken away…the blocks, the painting easels, the dramatic centers. But, I kinda figured the admins had done their darned best to make me unhappy when they forced me to kinder-land, so I went in there knowing my kids would learn, just like our own two and our grandson did…through play. I use a lot more learning stations than the other teachers, but now, I am using more. I am bringing the dramatic areas back in through STEM, STEAM, and STREAM. I have tons of Lakeshore kits on my wishlist, but chose to spend more money this summer on some excellent TpT bundles so my lessons could be targeted and directed to the necessary standards, but still incorporate the FUN in learning. Our day, however, will begin with BUILDING our stamina as partners and teams. First 15 minutes and last 15 minutes of each day, my littles will have their fingers moving with different type of construction materials or fine motor skill stations. AND, as a long time Discovery Toys consultant, my students will be taught this response to any inquiries by those who want to know what they are playing??? "Well, PLAY is child's work, and WE are working hard. Want to work with us?"

  29. Since I teach Deaf kids, their language skills are seriously lacking…we use toys all the time to try and build their language skills. I'm trying to add in more time for them to explore and use different things- switch out the same old manipulatives for something new! πŸ™‚
    X is for Apple

  30. Moving from a private preschool classroom to a public school kinder classroom I was nervous about losing that play aspect of learning. Thank you for the idea sparks! Great info and fun tools/toys to use πŸ™‚

  31. Love this blog! I've always been a big advocate for learning through play. I posted a link to your blog and the YouTube video as well as Tweeted it. I think it's important for people to understand how our little people learn. Thank you for this!

  32. So I didn't follow directions very well. lol I've always had Play-Doh in my classroom. For morning work the first two weeks my kids do the Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom mats with numbers and letters. I recently went to WalMart & bought a Lincoln Log set. I can't wait for my kids to use it. I also bought (last year) two Lite Brite flat screens. My kids LOVE it! I miss my old school we use to have tons of good centers like the castle you found at WalMart. I am slowly stocking up since I've moved out of state. I do love the building sets you found from Lakeshore! I am like you, trying to bring back the Drama. πŸ™‚

  33. I am so glad to hear teachers are going towards more play in the classroom for kindergarten! I plan to incorporate play more in my centers without so many predetermined outcome based ideas from me. I can' t wait to see what they will come up with. Thank you for the great post!

  34. Thank you for reaffirming that playing IS important in a Kindergarten classroom. I really want to incorporate more of it into my learning time. Thank you for your time and talent in sharing your thoughts and resources with us! Have a great year!

  35. I love to try to incorporate play into as many math games as possible–math is so much more fun when it is play-based! We do lots of card games and dice, and I love doing Lego sorts and tower building! I love all your Lakeshore finds–I can see my basket filling already! We do lots of building letters and numbers with play dough, and one of my favorite "fun teacher" activities is using shaving cream on the tables to write sight words or do math problems. I am also looking to do more with dramatic play during center time πŸ™‚

  36. I do "Fun Friday" every week, where the kids can choose between dramatic play and several different manipulatives (legos, blocks, unifix cubes, puzzles) for 25 minutes. I wish I had more time for play in our class!

  37. I teach a self-contained class for students with autism. A lot of time, we have to teach them how to "play" so during some of our social skills groups, we play games and work on taking turns, building, working as a team, etc. My students just think they're having fun, and don't realize they're learning! Win-win!

  38. I already have some of the play things mentioned in your blog (Mr. Potatohead, magnatiles – just got these at the end of last year!, blocks, etc) which usually only come out during choice time if time allows, but you've inspired me to incorporate it into my math time. Loved all your ideas! And I totally agree that playing to learn is an integral part of K!

  39. First of all thank you sharing your thoughts and ideas on how to bring play back into the classroom. I plan on allowing more time for free choice activities and using more hands-on materials in ALL subject areas, not just math.

  40. I loved this blog post! I strongly believe that playing is learning in Kindergarten. I try to incorporate it as much as can, and now will be even more mindful of this while planning lessons. These following directions look awesome. I would love to incorporate these into our classroom.

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