Reading aloud and encouraging play are two of the best activities you can provide for young children to help them learn. Thematic play is a fabulous way to combine books that your children enjoy reading with activities that can enrich the messages and lessons within a text. Thematic play allows children and parents to focus on broad concepts within a book, while still giving attention to smaller details that facilitate understanding of specific knowledge or skills. Thematic play also encourages children who learn in different ways to be able to express their understanding via a myriad of avenues, such as completing worksheets, singing, completing an experiment or puzzle, or creating art projects.
Thematic play allows for the integration of multiple subject areas, such as art, music, science, and math via lessons and projects based on a theme or book. For example, a farm theme could include the topic of animal care, which could include a science lesson about what animals eat, a vocabulary lesson about the names of baby farm animals, an art project where children draw or color animals, and a math activity where children count the number of animals in a barn. Combining multiple subject areas in accordance with a theme, helps children to make connections, thus facilitating understanding and knowledge that can be learned and applied in a relevant manner.
One of the main reasons our family uses thematic play is because it’s fun. Thematic units and thematic play are inspirational for both parents/teachers and students. Using favorite topics, themes that are present in a child’s everyday life, and those that are important to those close to them, help children get excited about learning. Themes related to holidays, seasons, nature, occupations, and food are often successful themes to use with younger children.
Thematic play can also be useful in encouraging students to complete activities in subject areas in which they are less proficient or which they find less enjoyable. For example, a child that loves being outside, but isn’t fond of math, might be encouraged to count, if he/she is able to count sticks, flowers, or acorns outside. Having an activity or craft that uses a specific number of those items can also increase the interest a child has in completing an otherwise seemingly mundane but necessary learning activity, such as counting.
Using themes that are familiar to children allows parents and teachers to help children build new skills and abilities on a topic with which they are already comfortable. Relating new concepts to real life experiences, such as eating good food to stay healthy and understanding seasons in relation to the calendar months can help children solidify new ideas. Familiar topics can build confidence in children and increases the likelihood that they will be able to accept and learn new information. Thematic play can be completed with groupings of children of multiple ages, making it an ideal avenue for learning in many home school environments. As children begin to understand more of a topic area, additional information and more advanced activities and projects can be added to increase the difficulty level and keep children engaged and challenged.
Our family enjoys using Before Five in a Row, a program for children ages 2-4, which relies heavily on thematic play, as well as creating thematic units based on books from Enchanted Home Schooling Mom’s Virtual Book Club, Poppins Book Nook. What programs or forms of thematic play have you had success with in your home?