So I’m currently reading this amazing book titled, The Importance of Being Little, by Erika Christakis, and I literally cannot put it down. An outstanding educator, leader and friend of mine, Paola Pereira lent it to me after I saw her carrying it around last week, and it’s one of those books that makes you sad as you get closer to the end because you truly hope that it goes on and on forever…you’ve all read books like this I’m sure. Anyway, there is one chapter in particular that has resonated deeply with me, and has got me thinking again about something that I’ve been passionate about since I first stepped into a classroom many years ago….the paramount importance of play in the lives of our children.
Christakis puts it beautifully at the end of the chapter by suggesting that as educators, “we should do our best to get out of young children’s way as much as possible to let them draw their own conclusions about how the world does and doesn’t work. A reinvigorated play habitat is just the place for this”… I love that! The idea of getting out of children’s way is something that can be difficult for us as educators I know, and giving up the reigns can often be a struggle as we do our best to “teach” our kids. That said, it’s probably the biggest gift that we can give as educators to all of our students, regardless of how old they are…unstructured play, trial and error learning, and the incorporation of the natural world often leads to the beauty of that serendipitous learning that we’ve all seen in our students at some point or another. It makes me wonder why we tend to get further and further away from this approach to learning as the students move up in grades, and as traditional educational models continue to hang on by their fangs.
It’s not just kids though, as adults we are guilty, I think, of losing that love of play as we grow up and “mature”, but I’m here to tell you that this is not a good thing for us or for our kids. I wrote a blog post just over five years ago that speaks to this, and I’d like to share it again because I believe it’s worth repeating. Think about how playful you are in your own lives these days, and how much you try to inspire this in the lives of your students…I bet there are improvements that we all can make, regardless of what grade you teach, to bring the idea of play more to the forefront of your day to day experiences with kids. Here’s a piece from that older post…
Last week, I watched kids playing tag, cops and robbers, hopscotch and hide and seek, not to mention all the great games of soccer and basketball and football where kids were pretending to be their favorite players from their favorite teams. I saw kids jumping in puddles and playing rock, paper, scissors, and every single one of them was smiling, free, and completely engaged. I started to wonder why as adults we don’t play more together? I thought about how maybe it’s actually the kids who’ve really got it right, and how maybe it’s time for us as educators to let the kids teach us an important lesson for once. Then I thought about the times in my life when I’m the happiest and it occurred to me that it’s when I’m playing. Either playing soccer with my boy, or dolls or moms and dads with my girl, or when I’m out for a run just letting my imagination and that dreamy state of mind take over. I also thought about the best teachers that I’ve ever had in my life and it struck me that it was the ones who played with us as students. The teachers who found ways to bring “play” into the classrooms, and the ones who found time to incorporate “play” into their lessons…..and the ones were out on the field at recess throwing footballs and playing horse. The teachers who hadn’t lost their inner child, and who knew the importance of having fun like a kid.
I’m not really sure when “play” becomes immature, irresponsible, or un-cool in the minds of most adults but I think it’s time to take “play” more seriously. I think most of us tend to get saddled with the seriousness of work, and paying the bills, and the responsibility that we have to ourselves, our students, and our own kids…….and I think it’s the wrong approach. I think that finding time to play may just be one of the most important things that we can do as adults. I think it will make us better educators, better mentors, better colleagues, and better parents. Like balance, finding time to play in your life is hard, and maybe something that you haven’t put as a priority of late. I guess I’m asking you all this week to think about how much you play with your students throughout the school day, and how much time you set aside in your own lives to escape like those kids on the playground…….it might just change your life for the better.
Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be playful with our kids and good to each other!
Quote of the Week –
The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression! – Stuart Brown
Great TED Talks on the Importance of Play – (watch these)
Interesting Articles –