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Learning to Read through Play!

Story: In August of 2017, I met and welcomed six-year-old Brandon into my title-1, first-grade class. Eager to learn and always willing to participate, Brandon was what teachers would call, “An easy student.” The first couple of months were amazing for Brandon, as he settled into the routine of our academic day, but by November, Brandon’s easy-going personality began to shift. He became less willing to participate in class, his work performance declined, he struggled to retain reading concepts and strategies, and his name frequented the bottom of the behavior chart. Brandon's change was abrupt, and shared, as many other students in our first-grade population began to exhibit the same behaviors. With demanding academic expectations, limited recess, and very little opportunities for play withinin the day, Brandon, like many of my other first graders, became overwhelmed and overworked.


(A) Behavior problems are more common among children aged 6–11 years than children younger or older. (CDC, 2019).

(B) Only ab46.3% of K-5th gr students in Atlanta Public Schools are reading on or above grade-level. (Georgia school grades report, 2018).

Solution: PUSH PLAY! It is often assumed that the opposite of play is work, but that isn’t entirely true. According to theorist Brian Sutton-Smith, “The opposite of play is depression,” and work is defined as an activity or action done to produce or accomplish something. Play is work! Play is powerful and completely purposeful in the life and development of children, and I reach to include adults. We often remove or limit play during critical periods of development, such as reading acquisition, but I argue that doing such is counterproductive, especially in our current academic climate. Play should not only be introduced as a break from the academic rigor of the day but integrated as a healthy partner in the journey to academic achievement. That is where my proejct begins!

Push Play is an innovative program created to integrate play and literacy development by commissioning students to craft their own play experiences based on their current practiced ELA standard. We don’t tell them how or what to play, as we have learned that play should be “freely chosen and intrinsically motivated,” instead we provide the opportunities for children to take ownership of their literacy development in a fun and engaging way by learning through play. Imagine how autonomy will develop in this atmosphere. Teachers won't have to plead and push for students to take ownership of their learning because intrinsic motivation would deliver itself.


Impact: In an attempt to increase understanding and reading performance, encourage intrinsic motivation, and decrease negative behaviors in the classroom, I began to include opportunities within the lesson plans that I labeled, "Play what you learned" time. Instead of watching the play, I participated and my students loved it! I had discovered an effective way to maintain academic rigor while incorporating impactful play opportunities on certain days of the week. As a result, Brandon’s literacy retention increased, and his name made it to the bottom of the behavior chart much less on those days. He said to me one afternoon while walking and smiling to his dismissal location, “Mrs. Reid, you’re my favorite kind of teachers. You help us learn and you help us play too!” I smiled big that day.

Your turn: You can help ATTCD bring the Push Play project to underserved, overwhelmed, and overworked students around the Metro Atlanta area. Your donations will provide classrooms with manipulative play boxes, materials, and tools that teachers and students can use to offer play opportunities that coincide with a multitude of lessons. Your donations will also help to place a Push Play professional in classrooms to model the program and demonstrate the importance of a well rounded learning environment that includes effective teaching strategies and purposeful play opportunities.

Reading is not a spectator sport, so let's play!

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