Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Play And Love Based Curriculum

When we enrolled our daughter Josephine in cooperative preschool, I explained how it worked to a friend, telling her that there was one professional teacher in the room and a dozen parent assistant teachers. She freaked out saying, “How can you let amateurs teach your child? I only want professional teachers near my child.” She feared that the parents of other children would somehow damage her child’s educational prospects. So while Josephine spent her 3 years in co-op, her son attended a preschool in which parents were not allowed into the classroom, even to observe.

I could no more have made her decision than she could have, apparently, made mine. Even as a new parent who had no inkling that teaching was in my future, I knew I wanted to be there with Josephine as much as possible, and when I wasn’t I wanted her to be surrounded by the love of a community. I didn’t care about her having a teacher who could teach her how to “read” or identify Norway on map before she was 3, like some kind of circus trick, I wanted her to be in a place where she simply got to play with friends and be guided by loving neighbors.

The more I teach, the better I feel about my decision.

What parents may lack as pedagogues (and, indeed, many of them are masters) they more than make up for by bringing love into a co-op classroom. And as Mister Rogers puts it:

Learning and loving go hand in hand. My grandfather was one of those people who loved to live and loved to teach. Every time I was with him, he’d show me something about the world or something about myself that I hadn’t even thought of yet. He’d help me find something wonderful in the smallest of things, and ever so carefully, he helped me understand the enormous worth of every human being. My grandfather was not a professional teacher, but the way he treated me (the way he loved me) and the things he did with me, served me as well as any teacher I’ve ever known.

My friend also thought that our co-op sounded too much like “play school.” She wanted her child to go to “real school.” Again, as a new parent, my thoughts on the subject were not well-enough formed to answer her with logical argument (not that it would have done any good), but I just knew she was wrong. Today, I know that to undervalue the importance of play for young children is to make a tragic mistake. Frankly, I think that goes for older children and adults as well. The times in life when my mind has been the most shut down are those times when I felt compelled to do “work” prescribed by others. When I've been playing, however, even if dressed up as hard work, I've learned the most about myself and the world.

Again, from Mister Rogers:

Play does seem to open up another part of the mind that is always there, but that, since childhood, may have become closed off and hard to reach. When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. We’re helping ourselves stay in touch with that spirit, too. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.

It’s love and play that form the foundation of a good education. Without that the rest is meaningless.

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Lisa said...

Thank you Tom for bringing the importance of play and love into focus. This is so important for healthy development, the relationship with an adult who is there for the child and the freedom to play.. Children meet the road of life through play and it is in a child's play that we can gauge the health of a child. When a child is in a warm and loving environment that feels safe to the child, the child can then play freely.

All the rest can wait. This is coming to the fore more and more, the cram down of intellectual work actually impedes learning. It must happen from the inside out if we want to develop true "authors" of life.

Gosh, I am ranting. I need to do a blog post on this. :-)

Thank you!

JoAnn Jordan said...

Play and love are keys to a life enjoyed no matter your age. Thanks for sharing this touching post by a parent.

Michelle Walker said...

Hear, hear! I applaud you!

Kerry said...

Hear, hear!

Gretchen said...

Amen! My daughter goes to Bev Bos's preschool and we love it - I knew I wanted her to have that awesome play-based experience (my biggest memory of preschool was sitting on the masking tape circle for an interminable length of time trying to daydream away the boredom).

I tried to evangelize my friends about play-based schools in general and Roseville Community in particular and was met with resounding indifference. When I talked up the opportunities to play and get messy, they would always say "They don't teach them any numbers or letters? Oh." I think most of them have already decided and set up in their parenting prior to preschool that success is more important than happiness for their kids, and they can't appreciate that the most developmentally appropriate place for their kids is actually the one that is the most fun.

It's sad to me, because I see how my daughter is able to be in the world, express and feel her emotions and then move on, and be assertive but not aggressive with other kids her age, and I know we are doing the right thing - I know I was not that emotionally mature at her age. And my husband and I have learned so much about our daughter during our days working at the preschool watching in the background what and how she chooses to do things, which would never happen in the typical mainstream preschool.

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to vent.

sherien said...

Sigh. I wish you taught in New York.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


You wrote: pedagogs
You probably meant: pedagogues

You wrote: proscribed
Maybe you meant: prescribed

Anonymous said...

I know this blog is old now but I am in amazement at how little I know about playing. I have a small in home child care and I find myself unable to actually play with the children. Where did it go? How do I get it back? I really try but get frustrated with myself because the responsibilities which come along with my child care and family life get in the way. I wish I could come to your co-op just one day.....I want to see it in action.

Anonymous said...

I taught in the school system in Ontario (Canada) for a few years and tutor as well with kids from 4-16 years of age. Over the years it has become clear to me that the students who are independent thinkers, show creativity, have a wider vocabulary and a deeper sense of numeracy and spatial concepts are the ones who played the most in the early years.

Rote memorization and "drill & kill" do not involve deeper thinking skills and problem solving the way play does. It amazes me that some parents cannot see this. Thank you for sharing your experiences on your blog!