Play: A Four Letter Word To Embrace

I’ve been thinking about play (when am I not thinking about play), reading about the importance of play here and here and watching children at play. Children playing at home, at school, in the classroom, on the recess yard and in the supermarket. I am a watcher, an observer of people, in general, and children, in particular.  This perspective became a guide to my interactions with students; learning not to jump to conclusions but giving them a chance to share and discuss their actions. Play takes many forms from the solo, independent child discovering that is needed at a given moment in time, to the outgoing, gregarious, activity seeking leaders; shepherding peers through their maze of discovery.

There has been much discussion about what kind of play is most meaningful to kids (for the purpose of this post I look at play in schools); self-directed vs structured, goal focused vs open-ended (without prescribed outcome attached). Some may argue that STEM/STEAM  Geniushour, PBL are a conduit of play and discovery guided by the teacher: purposeful play.  Some proscribe that inherent in play is the child’s self-directed focus; intrinsic motivation to process and search for knowledge, learning and understanding. For many purists at either end of the spectrum, there is little give to the middle ground. But as the argument continues, play is dismissed as time consuming with little educational value since there is so little time to cover all the curriculum in a given day! I won’t go into the plethora of research on the importance of play, suffice it to say that the research supports the need for students to play in order to develop social-emotional skills, motor skills and academic skills: language arts, math, science.

I’ve read many erudite articles on the value of play but here I look at how both play pundits (self-directed & teacher designed) can work together to combine their pedogolical beliefs to benifit their students. Research shows the importance of play and recess for students’ optimal development in the elementary years as well. These students need play as much as their younger counterparts. As a kindergarten teacher I found different ways to bring “play” into the classroom. I incorporated geniushour as a vechile for self-discovery, a focus that could be a solitary endeavor or include peers in the learning process. Geniushour for my kinders was a purposeful play that integrated process and product. Our WonderWall enhanced exploration of the world around us. The outdoor became an endless classroom devoted to awe and discovery. Art incorporated with Nature became another focus when the children playfully learned to navigate pulleys with branches and twigs. Completely enthralled with their discovery, the kinders, on their own, discovered trial and error then stepped aside, talked with each other, and generated ideas that were remarkable in their sophistication.

In a given day play takes on many faces. When curriculum is integrated in the process a different dimension to play is observed. We can’t go back to the way it was. But we can’t stand by idly and exclaim “What can we do, we have no time to play.” Let’s make the time for play, knowing that’s where learning begins. Let’s make time for recess, the exuberant, joyous, ruckus noise of developing friendships.

I continue to mull over play. Not the importance, that I have down pat, but how to help all educators to understand it as well.

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