Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Each time I post something here about the enthusiasm and involvement the Woodland Park’s parent community like I did yesterday or last month, I’m showered with comments and emails from teachers impressed with how well our parent community understands and supports our play-based curriculum. Several times I’ve even been approached to help create or review methods or systems that seek to measure and report the success of play-based education as a way to convince parents and establishment-types that what we’re doing is indeed education.

I feel so blessed to work in a place where the inherent educational goodness of play is a given; a place where parents are right there with me as daily witnesses to their children’s learning. As a teacher, I’ve never felt the compulsion to “sell” our program or its benefits in any way other than to be the best teacher I can be.

Up until relatively recent times, the attitude at our school was not an anomaly. It was widely understood that play was the “work” of childhood. The Industrial Revolution, however, did a number on Western society’s thinking on educating children, changing it from its historic roots as a play-based activity into a factory-style one.

But the great educators have never forgotten that at its core, true education, education for the whole child, is play:

“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.” –Heraclitis  
“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.” –Plato 
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” –Mister Rogers 
“For truly it is to be noted, that children’s plays are not sports, and should be deemed as their most serious actions.” – Michel de Montaigne 
“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” –Joseph Chilton Pearce 
“The very existence of youth is due in part to the necessity for play; the animal does not play because he is young, he has a period of youth because he must play.” –Karl Groos 
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain at artist once he grows up.” –Pablo Picasso 
“Gloom and solemnity are entirely out of place in even the most rigorous study of an art originally intended to make glad the heart of man.” –Ezra Pound 
“Teach by doing whenever you can, and only fall back upon words when doing it is out of the question.” –Jean Jacques Rousseau 
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” –Plato 
“The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task-garden; heaven is a playgound.” –C.K. Chesterton 
“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” –Diane Ackerman 
“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” –Kay Redfield Jamison
“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.” –Brian Sutton-Smith
“It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.” –D.W. Winnicott
“Pausing to listen to an airplane in the sky, stooping to watch a ladybug on a plant, sitting on a rock to watch the waves crash over the quayside – children have their own agendas and timescales. As they find out more about their world and their place in it; they work hard not to let adults hurry them. We need to hear their voices.” –Cathy Nutbrown

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Unknown said...

Playing is vital! : )
I believe in play therapy for children also. That is very controversial in some circles.

Floor Pie said...

Tom, I know you're not a fan of applying business models to education, but one could argue that play-based curriculum actually establishes a strong foundation for the child's future workplace success. Who's going to get the promotion? The person who was reading at age 3, or the person with the better social skills?

I remember hearing on a school tour that frontal lobe cognitive development happens during free play. But I guess that's more intangible than having your little one spit out the alphabet in Spanish or recognize a few sight words.

Parents need to realize that there's no shame in having your child learn reading and writing in elementary school. My son started kindergarten this year refusing to write his name. Guess what? They didn't kick him out. They simply taught him how to write his name. Yes, he struggled with it for a few weeks. But now he knows how to practice, struggle, and succeed at something. Now the next time he's faced with something that doesn't instantly come easily to him, he'll know how to meet that challenge.

Maybe that's where this push for "academic" preschool comes from in the first place. We parents tend to be an anxious bunch, and the thought of our children struggling with something or missing out on the slightest advantage really sets us off. So we spend all this effort moving obstacles out of their way, teaching them everything they're supposed to learn in kindergarten before they actually get there so they'll be "ahead." It's a hard impulse to resist.

Scott said...

Playing = learning!

Thanks for all the great quotes.

jenny said...

Thanks for the great post. Probably about 70% of the parents who come to look around our preschool think it all looks amazing - great space, happy and busy children, nurturing staff, better staff : child ratios than usual - and yet they still need convincing that children spending all day at play is the way to go. "But will they still learn?" and "What if they stay outside all day?" and "What about a school readiness program" are the main questions.

I think the free choice indoor / outdoor play scares a lot of them away. Its hard to get your head around learning happening outside.

We struggle for numbers because parents are scared off with the 'progressive' label which is really frustrating because progressive philosophy and early childhood philosophy fit like hand and glove.

I'd love to hear about other teacher's orientation process for new parents, and how they introduce them to the philosophy behind the program.

Launa Hall said...

If a parent is anxious about play curriculum, it can help to frame what they are seeing in academic terms. If you talk about development of executive function, and the stimulation of the frontal lobe, and the connection between social skills, oral language, and reading readiness, then you can help them see the value in play. I, too, can feel frustrated that some parents don't value play at face value, but I also feel that we who advocate for play, or emergent curriculum, or constructivist curriculum, etc, could do ourselves a favor with better marketing. A skeptical parent presents a teaching moment!

Anonymous said...

Tom, I love all these quotes, they are a fantastic reminder to everyone about how play should be cherished! Thank you for sharing. A little boy in my school (aged 5) came to us with very little proper play experience. We had to work really hard on developing creativity, turn taking and communication skills as a result! (However he was very capable of using the computer and playing computer games - linked, perhaps?)

Mariah@Playful Learning said...

Wow! Thank you for the great quotes. I will refer back to them often :)