Play-Based Centers is founded on 3 tenets:
- The play instinct is an underutilized resource.
Play-Based Centers harnesses this play instinct through a teacher-guided play block.
Decades of research confirm that children learn through play. We can fight this play instinct, or use it to build strong academic skills. In fact, researchers from across disciplines have shown that play positively impacts literacy skills in particular. The following studies span time, race, culture, and geographic location. They include children from preschool through middle school, with varying abilities, socio-economic situations, and backgrounds:
Saltz, Dixon, & Johnson, 1977; Vygotsky, 1978; Pellegrini, 1980; Smith, Dalgleish, & Herzmark, 1981; Galda, 1982; Pellegrini & Galda, 1982; Silvern, et al., 1983; Pelligrini, 1984; Cazden, 1988; Christie & Enz, 1992; DuPont, 1992; Williamson & Silvern, 1992; Patton & Mercer, 1996; Owocki, 1999; Bergen & Mauer, 2000; Fall, Webb, & Chudowsky, 2000; Sipe, 2000; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002; Biemiller, 2003; Hibbard & Wagner, 2003; Krueger & Ranalli, 2003; Panksepp et al., 2003; Guthrie, et al., 2004; Kenney 2005; Kornfeld & Leyden, 2005; Myers, 2005; Pelligrini, 2005; Christie & Roskos, 2006; Nystrand, 2006; Saracho & Spodek, 2006; Singer, et al., 2006; Kelin, 2007; Wright, et al., 2007; Lester & Russell, 2008; Tsao, 2008; Welsch, 2008; Diamond & Lee, 2011; Dickinson & Porsche, 2011; Adomat, 2012; Hoffman & Russ, 2012; Six and Panksepp, 2012; Massey, 2013; Roskos & Christie, 2013; Weisburg, et al., 2013; Cohen et al., 2014; Gonzalez, 2014; Fromberg & Bergen, 2015; Kohm, et al., 2016; Toub, et al., 2016; Veiga, Neto, & Rieffe, 2016; Cavanaugh, et al., 2017; Mullen, 2017; Westby & Wilson, 2017; Moedt and Holmes, 2018; Neha & Rule, 2018; Pyle, et al., 2018; Toub, et al., 2018; Quinn, et al., 2018; Yu, et al., 2018; Baker, et al., 2020; May, 2020; Saracho, 2020; Zosh, et al., 2021 . . . to name just a few studies …
The only mystery is why a daily guided-play block isn’t the norm in our schools already!
In 2018, Dr. Jennifer Zosh, and colleagues describe the kinds of play as existing on a continuum:
In this spectrum, Play-Based Centers falls under the category described as “Guided Play.” Research further shows that sustained guided play is ideal for optimizing learning. (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015)
- Teachers are overwhelmed.
Play-Based Centers is designed to make teachers’ jobs easier.
Most educators would describe their jobs as challenging and admit to feelings of occasional or even constant burnout. Stressed-out teachers have less motivation, less energy, and less creativity, and often find classroom management especially challenging. Educators need more opportunities to “teach smarter.” They need flexible, simple, easy-to-plan methods and routines.
- Learning is complex.
Play-Based Centers provides time for daily, holistic learning opportunities.
Throughout history, great thinkers have attempted to understand the nature of learning and determine the ingredients that are necessary to create an ideal education. While these theories of education remain just that- shadowy and debated theories, I believe we can universally agree that authentic learning is far more than the explicit instruction and measurement of isolated concepts and discrete skills.
The Carroll Model, (1963/1989) offers one interesting glimpse into the complexities of authentic learning. Dr. John Carroll described five variables that impact academic achievement in school settings, noting that time is a powerful factor. Unfortunately, “There is never enough time.” is a commonly voiced complaint by educators. PBC is designed with this factor in mind- time.
Narrowing our theories of education to the field of literacy, we have the famous “Reading Rope” proposed by Dr. Hollis Scarborough. (2001).
As an Orton-Gillingham tutor and reading interventionist, I spend much of my time focusing on the strands that make up the word recognition portion of Scarborough’s rope. And research from the science of reading reveals that these strands are certainly essential to creating skilled readers. However, it is also clear that word recognition is not enough. Children need both word recognition and language comprehension. Play experiences are a natural and efficient way to strengthen these strands of language comprehension. (Roskos & Christie, 2000, 2011)
Research has also shown that social and emotional skills are essential to successful learning. (Durlak et al., 2011) Physical, mental, and emotional well-being are also vital, yet sometimes neglected factors. Maslow’s hierarchy (1943) reminds us that we cannot neglect basic human needs. In our reading rope image, think of these social and emotional skills and basic human needs as the individual threads making up the strands. If these foundational threads are frayed and fragile, the strands cannot be woven into strong ropes. Play experiences are a natural and efficient way to repair and strengthen these threads. (Siviy, 2016; Pellis, 2014)