Sunday, February 8, 2015

Power of Play

I’m pretty new to Twitter, but I was scrolling through the other day and found a post by Global School Play Day, an initiative that was founded on the premise that kids need to play. My background is Early Childhood, so at my very core, I have always believed in the power of play and the need for it, but the increasing demands of elementary curriculum have caused even seasoned educators some disequilibrium when it comes to balancing solid pedagogy with actual classroom practice.

I know that children need to, “grapple,” with tough ideas and concepts. The best way for a child to internalize equivalent fractions is to divide actual things. The best way to learn how to read is to read actual books with people you love. The best way to learn to add is to add actual items; items that can be held and touched and manipulated. The most effective way to understand the components of soil is to get grimy little third grade hands in the dirt; to dig and to sift and to observe.
However, in the back of my mind, there’s this one thing that happened over seven years ago…A child I taught went on to the next grade and was having trouble, “sitting still.” At a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told the parent, “Well, sure he wasn’t having this problem last year. In Mrs. Taylor’s class, EVERYTHING is a party…”

Um. OK. Thankyouverymuch. Good heavens, should it not be a party? These are five and six and seven and eight year olds. They only just learned to walk. They play, "Tiger," at recess. Shouldn’t our students WANT to come to school each day? Shouldn’t we strive to convey that learning is fun, learning is super-exciting, that learning is such a treat?

Global School Play Day had one charge. Let your kids play. Don’t boss it, don’t plan it, certainly don’t intervene in it. The skills kids learn as they play are cognitive. They are social and emotional and physical. You will be shocked with what kids learn when they are allowed and encouraged to play.

My third graders came in the room and asked where the morning work was. Oh, your morning work is to play.
Play what?
Whatever you want.
What do you mean?
I mean, find something to play. There’s stuff to play with all over the room. There are puzzles, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Magnetix, PlayDoh, paper, pattern blocks. Just go find something to play.
Kelsie hugged me. Like, full on embrace. “This is the best day ever, Mrs. Taylor! I don’t even understand why you’re letting us do this…”
One of my kids brought me a hamburger, fries, and a large water. 
And he waited for me to pretend-eat it. Bless.

Praise sweet Baby Jesus that I work in a building where my administrators trust teachers and I (mostly) have the freedom to do what I know is right for kids. It’s probably best for kids that I get to wear jeans every day, but we’ll save that post for another time…I know that every day cannot be Global School Play Day. I know that it is my job to deliver a, “clearly articulated, vertically aligned curriculum.” I am fully aware that I am required by my great state to hold students accountable for a rigorous set of content and readiness objectives in order to have my students College and Career ready…

But, as long as they’ll let me, and maybe even after they don’t, I will fight (the civil disobedience kind…I’m not great at confrontation) for what I know is right for kids. I will search for methods to deliver my content in ways that are engaging, relevant, and hands-on. I will work with my colleagues to balance our job description with our passion for teaching…and darn it, we will PLAY.