Playing is often thought of as just fun, but now kindergarten teachers at Edmond Public Schools are using it to circumvent misbehavior and reduce suspension levels among kindergartners.

“Play does not always look academic, but it can be,”  said Elizabeth Ging, the Early Childhood Instructional Facilitator.

A kindergarten student plays with a pretend cash register

Over the last five years, Ging and other teachers have seen a spike in behavior issues among students. Ging says students are acting out more and seem to lack the social-emotional skills necessary to be successful in kindergarten.  To help students, she and a team of kindergarten teachers have created purposeful playtime.

“It is through play that kids organically problem solve, read the clues and figure things out,” Ging said. 

By spending at least 30 minutes each day with purposeful play, Ging said they are able to push students to collaborate, think creatively and interpret social clues.  

“I always tell them that we work hard in the morning and then play hard in the afternoon,” said Debbie Crouch, who has been a kindergarten teacher for 12 years.

Crouch used to have the mindset of focusing on preparing students for the next grade, but now she has reclaimed the joy in her classroom by guiding students to discover meaning out of everyday experiences.

“It is not taking away from the academics at all,” Crouch said. “The students are excited now. And, we are able to capitalize on students’ natural curiosity.”

Whether it is a group of students building with blocks, making a pretend cake or reading together, purposeful play can be introduced into any subject matter.

“You do not have to sit down with a worksheet or video to learn,” Ging said. 

Teachers are given instructional material along with coaching guides on ways to bring purposeful play into the classroom. The new use of time also aligns with all Oklahoma learning standards. 

“We have set the stage and it is meant to be intentional,” noted Ging. 

Measuring success for the program will range from the number of behavior referrals, suspension rates, to feedback from those involved in the process, including parents.

With students learning more social-emotional skills, Ging hopes that not only will suspension rates begin to fall but kindergarten teacher retention will rise.