Play and Science Can Fuel a Love of Learning

BreAnn FennellBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Innovate Better, Lesson Plan Better, Manage Better


  • When planning your schedule, be intentional to include science so students can learn to ask questions to spark thinking, be wrong, and make mistakes. You can find time to teach the standards AND incorporate science. Try new ideas and explore with students.
  • Have a space in your classroom, such as a wonder wall, to place student questions. Model questioning and then invite students to ask questions.
  • Get started by collecting your own varied materials, visiting dollar stores, thrift stores, or garage sales. Get free books from the library or go to for your science projects.
  • Bring your positivity and enthusiasm when you teach. It is contagious!

When planning your schedule for this new school year, you may start with the basics: When will I teach reading and math? I ask you though, teachers of the small babes in the early grades, please don’t forget about science. Don’t squeeze science in a little corner of your lives and check it off that you read a few sentences in a book that is probably 20 years old. Why? We can teach science using play and see the engagement that we’ve been looking for. 

Kids deserve to be excited and passionate about what they are learning. They need to learn to ask questions about their worlds in an age where they can Google anything and feel that their questions matter. They need to think and share and be wrong and make mistakes. If you want to check out a book all about science by our very own Teach Better Member, Becky Schnekser, you can find it here: Exploration Science: Empowering Learners Through Exploration.

An awesome thing about trying new ideas in the classroom is that you can share that experience with kids, or better yet...let them teach you! Click To Tweet

A Love for Learning: Where do I start?

At the beginning of the year, I asked for a bulletin board to be hung in a very specific place. I work with fantastic people who said they would do that for me and I put together a place for our questions. I said thank you 40 times and posted “I love first grade” right beside it because you should always let your kiddos know that you love what you do! 

This wonder wall concept was one I learned about during a training, but my use of it has grown the longer I teach. I was able to score these awesome light bulbs at a local Dollar Tree. I ran out of black Fadeless paper and improvised a blue corner in a real “Make it work moment,” as Tim Gunn says. But I love it!

I pose a question of my own that is related to the standards such as, “How does water change?” Then I teach my students to ask questions of their own. The questions they come up with are fantastic! It really helps drive my instruction and this allows them to know that their questions are important to me and to the classroom community.

We revisit our questions and my students can add more to the wall on a Post-It as they come to them. Students have scribed questions that are deep and complex such as, “Why do bad things happen in our world?” and “How do we keep our water clean?” And they ask questions like, “Are gasses like the ones that are stinky?” All important. All relevant to their lives. 

A Love for Learning: Sounds great, but how do I get the materials to do these projects? I’m a teacher on a budget. 

Science is great because it is all around us. I’m constantly driving my husband crazy by hoarding all things because I might need them some time for some project. I ask for materials such as salt, toilet paper tubes, bowls, and batteries in my newsletters, at open houses, and from PTO. I get huge bags of books from the library for free each month related to our units and I scour thrift stores, Dollar Stores, and garage sales.

When I decided I wanted to incorporate the power of play every Friday, I turned to to post my projects. I applied to our community foundation for teacher grants. Also, I partnered with our community and reached out to businesses. I posted all over social media platforms to get my kids what they needed. You know what? It worked, and my students have materials to explore that are up to date, books that are high quality, and a message that they are scientists! We were even able to fund a fun science assembly with hands-on materials from COSI Science Center from Donor’s Choose. I’m still posting projects that will help them learn and grow further. If you are interested in learning more or posting your own projects, get started here.  

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A Love for Learning: I don’t have time for fun stuff…I have standards to cover! 

Not TRUE! Please look in the mirror and say: I want to do my most engaging FUN lessons with my most difficult standards and the kids will not even know they are learning. I know my standards and I always make sure I cover my standards when I write my grants. I know what needs to get done and I love crossing curriculum standards. Check out the Teach Better Academy if you are interested in using Grids for planning this school year.

A Love for Learning: I’m not techy…so STEAM wouldn’t work for me.

An awesome thing about trying new ideas in the classroom is that you can share that experience with kids, or better yet…let them teach you! High tech doesn’t guarantee high quality, so go with your interests and include nature, art, or music because when you are excited and having fun that feeling is contagious.

Don’t get so wrapped up in terms and acronyms that you get stressed and forget to smile. Osmo and Wonder Workshop are great places to start in the world of technology for the classroom. 

A Love for Learning: Do Not Insert Something Negative Here

Kids are going to respond to your vibe. If you are unhappy and frustrated they will also be unhappy and frustrated. Starting back from any break is tough and we have all had a few frustrating days where we go home and reflect. Start today with, “WOW guys, I could not WAIT to come to school today and share today with you. I know we are going to have an amazing day.” 

About BreAnn Fennell

Mrs. BreAnn Fennell is a first-grade and second-grade looping teacher in Ashland, Ohio. She has worked in both public and private settings and is passionate about providing exciting learning environments for students. Mrs. Fennell is a published author of children’s books including Play? Yay! and Choose Your Cheer. She is a mom to two energetic boys and a defender of play!