Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Understanding Play

I'm so happy to live in a world in which I don't need to defend the educational benefits of turquoise water, wooden boats, chop sticks, clothes pins, and rocks.

In fact, I'm often shocked when confronted with a person who doesn't get it, who sees children as some sort of raw wood with the basic shape of a finished vessel perhaps, but in need of fixing or filling or painting or trimming or rigging.

These are not bad people. They have good intentions in wanting to mold little bodies and minds into a version of what a person ought to be, one that they feel will sail most uprightly upon the "real" seas of life.

No, they are not bad, but they are ignorant and often cocksure, convinced by the results of their own mental experiments that "prove" that more rigor, longer hours, more academics, and uniform standards will lead to smarter kids. They start from the perverse premise that knowing stuff is more important than knowing how to know. And their entire body of "knowledge" comes from a place of suppositions, books, standardized tests, and analysis so far removed from a classroom that even what they do "know" is a mere abstraction of the "real" seas of our children's lives. I'm so happy I don't need to spend my days convincing them.

I'm so happy I don't need to be dissecting our play, looking for proof that education is taking place, that they are learning this or they are learning that. I'm so happy that the people around me, the parents who send their children to our school, understand this.

Perhaps it's because they are there with us in the classroom instead of reading studies and reviewing test scores. They are right here playing alongside the kids, performing their own experiments with turquoise water, wooden boats, chop sticks, clothes pins, and rocks. They are rolling up their sleeves and doing it. And that's really the only way to understand play.

Bookmark and Share


Lisa Murphy said...

that was lovely to wake up to this morning. thank you!

Unknown said...

Great post!

Cathy Denman said...

I just wanted to say that since stumbling across your blog a few weeks ago, you have inspired me to really look at my practice and consider if what I am doing really is in the best interests of the children or am I trying to please parents and comply with those who currently determine what is best practice in the early years in England. So I just wanted to say thanks as it feels wrong to be continually ransacking your blog for inspiration with saying so! I am gradually building up my supply of 'loose bits' and these are proving incredibly popular with the children. If only I didn't have to spend so much of my time proving that I am providing a stimulating environment and the children in my care are learning and developing (big sigh).

Ruth Churchill Dower said...

Amen to that!

Anonymous said...

Cathy, you are so right! There is far too much assessment of teaching practice going on in the UK with everyone feeling under pressure to perform and impress - often at the cost of creativity! I understand that improving standards is important, but the whole process is squeezing the life and enjoyment out of teaching- it's so annoying for those teachers who are doing such a great job anyway.
It's so demotivating, isn't it? I'm glad you found Tom's blog too. Have a look at Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning too, the girls have such a liberated and refreshing approach to learning with children at the centre. :)

Aunt Annie said...

Play is good for adults too. I find myself getting so involved in what we're doing with the children. Often I will unintentionally scaffold an activity just because I wanted to experiment with the materials myself, and next thing I have a little crowd wanting to join in. I wish more parents took the time to get down and dirty in the centres where I work- the children love it when they do!

Teacher Tom said...

Thanks everyone!

@Cathy . . . Ransack away! I know I'm very lucky to be in a position in which I don't have to persuade people about the value of what we do. I just make it very clear to everyone going in that this is what we do . . . In fact, it's the only way I know how to teach!

@Aunt Annie . . . Agree totally! I'm the same way! I think we would all be better off if we understood that play is why we are here.

Jess64 said...

I recently got linked to your blog and have been loving it. Spending some time back reading. I"m getting two benefits
1) Lots of ideas for things to do with my girls at home.
But more importantly you are exciting me about going back to work as a teacher when I return in August. So thank you.

Cathy Denman said...

Thanks Carly but I have already found Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning. I wasn't joking when I said I had ransacked Tom's blog, links as well! You are right, it's another fantastic site. These are my top two favourite blogs.

Amanda Lynn said...

It is so true that until you see it happen its hard to understand. One day this past winter a big sister spent the day with us and i was amazed to see the ways that her simple ideas changed the way the entire activity went. It was great to see such an out of the box way of thinking and how engaged the children were in this new plan for the materials they were given.