How Abigail and Her Students Are Playing To Learn
Story by Adriana Ermter
Photos by Asiwome Biekro
Singing and dancing is a daily ritual in Abigail Havor's Grade 1 class.
And it's just one of the reasons why her classroom stands out from some of the others at the Obokwashie Basic school in Ghana.
First, Abigail has arranged the desks and chairs in her classroom into the shape of a horseshoe, creating an inclusive environment that enables the children to face one another and for Abigail to see all of her students when they have their hands raised in response to her questions. It encourages participation and engagement. Most importantly, says Abigail, the horseshoe arrangement creates an open space where the children can play.
Abigail has been a teacher for four years. Last year, she was trained in Right To Play's play-based learning methodology. Newly equipped with our specialized games and activities, she is now using them as a learning tool, empowering the children to participate in the classroom and to develop to their fullest potential.
Through the practical classroom and group management sessions which were part of her training, Abigail saw first-hand the impact that play can have on classroom dynamics and student engagement. Inspired by her own training experience, she is determined to harness play to build the trust of her students, create a safe, encouraging environment, motivate them to actively participate in lessons and to explore and express themselves.
Many of the games played in the classroom require the children to work in teams.
"Since no child wants his or her team to lose, they support each other to complete tasks,"explains Abigail. "Now, boys support girls and girls support boys. Their willingness to help any team member, no matter their age or gender, really shows they are learning teamwork. And their communication skills have also improved."
Class control has also become much easier and Abigail says she sees a huge difference in her students' confidence and learning.
"Play does not require every child to have fully mastered a subject for children's participation," she says. "It offers something for any and every child to relate with and learn from."
Abigail uses relay games a lot, adapting them to teach a range of subjects. These games usually involve children racing to complete tasks like writing answers to mathematical challenges on the chalk board or running to be the first to identify letters. This type of engaged play gets children moving, active, develops concentration and and holds their attention for longer periods of time. The games have helped Abigail's students grasp basic lesson concepts more easily, her students are more alert and they are eager to learn.
The daily progress Abigail sees in her students is underlined by a growing body of research that over the last decade and a half, clearly demonstrates the inextricable links between learning and playing.
The research highlights how play, when applied effectively in the classroom, can contribute to learning, especially in the areas of literacy and numeracy.
It also shows that play is fundamental in developing children's life skills—healthy cognitive, social, emotional and physical development and competencies. Right To Play's experiential, participatory and guided approach to play-based learning drives all of this, while directly supporting learning the curriculum.
Our play-based learning approach develops specific skills, competencies and processes proven to facilitate and enhance the development of language and mathematical ability such as social skills, critical thinking, reasoning, connecting, communicating and problem-solving.
Abigail understands and embraces the power of play in and outside of her classroom, as do many of her teaching colleagues in other schools in Ghana and around the world. And here are some of the results from our programs and classrooms around the world...
In 2015, Right To Play launched the Play for the Advancement of Quality Education (PAQE) program with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. Active in eight countries including Ghana, PAQE uses Right To Play's experiential learning methodology to build teacher capacity and remove barriers to education to improve learning outcomes.