Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Upon A Foundation Of Play

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~John Dewey

At the end of the day as I go through stacks of the artwork we make at Woodland Park, I often find a painting or two that were clearly created by the hand of a grown-up. There are some, I know, who would see that as evidence that an adult has been directing the kids, or some who would fret that this exhibition of "superior skill" will somehow intimidate a child or otherwise impede or unduly influence his artistic production.

I see it as evidence that one of our parent-teachers was playing with the kids, which is one of the things I ask of them.

As a cooperative preschool, our classroom is more heavily populated with adults than most and they are there to learn every bit as much as the kids. In fact, each of them are enrolled in North Seattle Community College as students earning parent education credits. People often ask me, "Sure, a play-based curriculum is great for young children, but what about as they get older? Doesn't there have to be more direct instruction?" 

I see adults learning through play, through experience, through creative exploration every day. I see them learning through "life itself."

I've been a teacher here now for 13 years. I've taken a few early childhood classes, but hold no specialized degree in education (in fact, my degree is in journalism). My primary training for this job was the apprenticeship I received while working for 3 years alongside experienced teachers and parent educators as my daughter went through her cooperative preschool, doing exactly what the parents in my classes are now doing: playing with the kids and observing how these more practiced adults played with them. Three of my own former parent-teachers have now gone on to become full-fledged teachers in their own right.

When I look around at the 40 or so cooperative schools in our system, I mostly see teachers who started, as I did, as parents in their own child's cooperative. When I look at the dozen or so parent educators who work with us, I see the same. Of course, many of them have gone on to secure degrees, and even those who don't, like me, have taken traditional classes, attended workshops, and continue to read, but the foundation for all of us was play. 

And it continues every day as we allow ourselves to explore with the children. We use the same paints, brushes and paper and sit in the same little chairs in the same cheery rooms, playing, but of course we're not learning the same things. Instead, we're learning exactly what we need to learn as we struggle and experiment and fail and succeed. That's the beauty of a play-based curriculum: everyone learns exactly what they need to learn.

And that's why, when I come across the paintings made by adults, I examine them as I would a child's, looking for clues of what they have learned that day and what I might be able to help them learn tomorrow.

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