Play + SEL = Out of School Time Success

By Tiffany Self & Déjà Bailey

At Big Thought, equipping all youth to imagine and create their best lives and world is our North Star; it informs how we approach our work. Empowering youth by building their creative muscle, developing social and emotional skills and well-being, and fostering their authentic voice is the Big Thought way. We strive to provide experiential opportunities to our youth and community by making connections, celebrating creativity, and thriving through play.

Through play, youth begin exhibiting personalities and preferences that establish their uniqueness and are the foundations for their intellectual abilities and the development of critical 21st century skills.

Play is the work of children and the tool the body and brain use to spark human development and growth. In fact, play and caregiver connections promote the growth of the four main domains of human development: language, cognition, social and emotional, and physical. Across the range of Big Thought activities, we strive to provide creative opportunities for play-based learning, connection building, and supporting whole child/whole family progressions. 

Key elements of 21st century skills are critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. During play, youth can think creatively and learn the dynamics of exploration. In the article, Play is Education the quote “The highest form of research is essentially play” describes the intellectual functions of play, because it is the act of exploration that exposes youth to problem-solving and self-efficacy.1 Youth’s brain architecture alters as they experience and develop their preference for specific types of play, based upon explorative experiences and cognitive interest. This is how youth determine their play personalities, according to Dr. Stuart Brown.2 Play personalities help adults connect with youth in ways that make the most of their learning experience and describe their dominant and preferred styles of learning through play. By using the CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) Competencies framework to build connectivity through play and Active Learning Engagements. Active engagement refers to the joint functioning of motivation, movement, conceptual knowledge, cognitive strategies, and social interactions in learning activities.3 Big Thought encompasses all the components for youth success in 21st century skills.

DIG DEEPER: If you would like to know more about play personalities check out BTI’s Play Personality Workbook, click here.

As members of Big Thought Institute’s Professional Learning Team, we work towards creating a teaching and learning cycle that is rooted in social and emotional learning foundations based on CASEL’s framework. Throughout this model, we deliver training and experiences promoting development in Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Responsible Decision Making, and Relationship Building. For example, Big Thought frontline program staff implement play personalities, multiple intelligences, and creative critical thinking as they work with youth of all ages. Professional development training models the importance of play. Training includes physically engaging practices, active and mindful brain breaks, and experiential learning through scenario training and presentations led by other content experts and practitioners. 

Our professional learning team develops, organizes, and classifies training that covers the CASEL Competencies and other topics for staff, youth, and beyond. Through our recently launched Play series of training courses, participants learn about the way play builds brain connections and the different types of play that stimulate learning. Offered in tandem with our Brain Development series, we highlight the necessary mind and body connections needed for youth to play. By equipping adults who directly work with youth with knowledge, best practices and experience in these two content areas, we work to elevate the capacity of Big Thought personnel and partner with others to serve our community. In this way, we are living out one of Big Thought’s organizational values of “reaching youth we will never meet.”

Visit the Big Thought Institute website to learn more about our course offerings and be on the lookout for free webinars, community turn up events, and other offerings from Big Thought and Big Thought Institute.

3Alao, S., & Guthrie, J. T. (1999). Predicting conceptual understanding with cognitive and motivational variables. The Journal of Educational Research, 92(4), 243–254.  

2Brown, S. L., & Vaughan, C. C. (2010). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. Avery.  

1Scarfe, N. (1962). Play is Education. Association for Childhood Education International, 39(3), 117.