iLEAD Agua Dulce Facilitator Recognized for Play-Based Learning During Distance Learning

Project Based Learning iLEAD Agua Dulce

iLEAD Agua Dulce facilitators and Director Lisa Latimer have been leading the way in play-based learning, an educational approach that embraces the process of discovery and joy that children experience through intentional play. However, of all things that have been difficult to support during distance learning, play-based learning may top the list.

But don’t tell that to iLEAD Agua Dulce Facilitator Aidan Bybee, who has been making quite an impression with her distance learning play-based instruction and activities.

Bybee, recently recognized for her efforts with a SoCal Honda’s Random Acts of Helpfulness Teacher Award, has successfully taken her child-led and curiosity-based outdoor classroom to the digital environment.

Research indicates that play-based programs increase children’s complexity of language and learning processes linked to important literacy skills. In vocabulary and literacy, play-based learning is more effective than many traditional classroom programs.

To provide play-based learning through this period of distance learning, Bybee goes live with learners twice per day in the Facebook group iLEAD Through Play. She leads learners in grades TK-8 in activities such as virtual field studies, hikes and science experiments. Activities are shared to engage learners and families, and each day is focused on a different type of play: design challenges, creativity, finding one’s passion and more. Recently, the iLEAD Agua Dulce staff celebrated Play Each Day Week.

Bybee’s virtual play-based learning efforts have been successful among learners, parents, families and other facilitators as well. “She creates a sense of normalcy and an outlet for all the learners to escape,” Latimer said. “She brings joy, which is so needed right now.”

Bybee has been overwhelmed by the response from the iLEAD community and beyond. “Honestly, the feedback on social media has been a really pleasant surprise,” Bybee said. “Lisa and I started iLEAD Through Play as a way to share ideas, ask questions, and advocate for play-based learning.” That platform has blossomed into an active and growing community celebrating learning through play, especially in this new virtual and digital environment. 

“Parents are sharing what they are doing at home with their learners, and we’re creating a really lovely and welcoming community,” said Bybee.

Latimer reiterated that the feedback has been outstanding, noting that learners and parents from beyond the iLEAD Agua Dulce and iLEAD Schools communities are reaching out to Bybee. “Learners and parents are coming from lots of different schools and communities,” said Latimer. “Parents are continually commenting on how she makes learning fun.”

The number of daily participants at iLEAD Through Play has grown from dozens to hundreds. Bybee joins other facilitators’ Zoom sessions to invite learners and gains interested participants from Facebook. “It’s awesome to connect with children and meet families who are at home and want a little help,” Bybee said. “These play-based Zoom sessions provide an escape and a creative outlet for children who are probably feeling pretty stressed about not being at school and being at home during this time.”

With all the time learners, as well as families, are spending on devices, Bybee said it’s nice for us to put our hands in some mud, play dough or slime together. “What a great way for families and learners to bond,” said Bybee. “And it’s not just about the play. It’s about what we can all learn together through play.”

iLEAD colleagues and play-based advocates around the world recognize Bybee’s leadership and now approach her for ideas and resources. “Our parents and community have always trusted our work, including the value in play-based learning, but they are seeing the value in real time,” said Latimer. “They are living it and observing all of the essential positive aspects and results.” Because of those efforts, Latimer said she was excited to nominate Bybee for the recognition by Honda. 

Latimer is also excited that increasing numbers of people recognize the value of play-based learning and that iLEAD Agua Dulce is able to support the cause from an international stage. The International Play Association-USA has invited Latimer, who is the United States Chair for Play Advocacy and Play Days, to be an administrator on their IPA-USA Facebook Page. Both Latimer and Bybee will lead the organization’s professional development opportunities in play-based learning.

As part of Bybee’s Random Acts of Helpfulness Teacher Award, Honda donated art supplies, science and sensory materials, nature items and books to Bybee and iLEAD Agua Dulce’s play-based programs. 

Latimer said that Bybee does not do this work for recognition, but rather to ensure that the Outdoor Classroom and play-based learning are known to all. “She is leading the reform to bring play and play-based learning into schools,” said Latimer. “She sees the larger mission.”

Bybee’s sincerity and humility are apparent. For her, it’s all about the learning that comes from intentional play; it’s about how learners need to tinker, design, dance, sing and play in an imaginative world to develop social skills and build vocabulary. “Learners need to play and we, as educators, need to give them that freedom to take risks and play,” said Bybee. “It’s hard to step back sometimes, but if you set up activities with intentionality, learners will surprise you and discover and learn.

For more information on iLEAD Agua Dulce’s approach to play-based learning, feel free to email Director Lisa Latimer at lisa.latimer@ileadaguadulce.org as well as facilitator Aidan Bybee at aidan.bybee@ileadaguadulce.org

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