Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Play First

I got up this morning, like I do every morning, at 5 a.m. This morning, I actually woke up on my own at 4:58, but even when I sleep until the alarm sounds, I sit right up, then into the bathroom where I pull on my bathrobe. 

Next, I make coffee. I would prefer freshly ground beans from a French press, but the household rousing sound of a grinder and the convenience of the pre-ground stuff has lead us to a classic drip coffee maker. When my wife Jennifer and I started living together more than three decades ago, I was appalled to find she owned no way to make coffee at home. My first gift to her was a coffee maker similar to the one we own today. I think of that almost every morning as I'm still making coffee for her.

I throw out the cold grounds from the day before, then open the coffee container. I measure out the coffee, get things going, then fire up the computer where I, like right now, get to work writing, as I've done for coming up on seven years now. When I'm lucky, I've taken a few notes the night before or even written a paragraph or two to get me going, but most of the time I've at least been stewing on an article or reflecting on a photo or set of photos from the classroom or just feeling full of righteousness about something or other, so that's what I write about. 

I write every day, and sometimes I love it, but not always. Some days it feels like a chore, just as it does to sit up at 5 a.m. and make the coffee. I feel the same way about making breakfast and packing my lunch, getting dressed, commuting, and setting up the classroom.

Most days, I eat a breakfast of fruit with plain, full fat yoghurt and pack a lunch salad topped with the night before's leftovers (I often cook extra in order to have leftovers). Some days I like it better than others, but when I try to break up the routine with a fried egg or a sandwich, I always regret it. 

I really don't like getting dressed so, like with most necessary things I dislike, I've made a system of it. I only really think about pants and shirts. I wear the same pants all week, every week, washing only when absolutely necessary. Then I wear t-shirts. When one of our Woodland Park logo t-shirts is available I wear that. Next in the pecking order are my Pink Floyd t-shirts. My shirts usually only get one wearing because of the sweating during the bicycle commute, but when I take the bus I might fold them at the end of the day and put them back in the drawer.

If I win the lottery, I won't quit my job, but I'll hire some bright, reliable people to set-up the classroom for me. Since I've not won the lottery, I manage it by arriving on the premises more than two hours before the start of class, which is my "planning" time, by which I mean I plan on my feet, putting things together based upon my memories from the day before, the materials that are plentiful, requests from the kids, and whatever is on my mind that morning. I tell myself that this is my time to work with my "third teacher," the environment, and that's in part true, but there are many things I have to do every day to make our school ready and safe which I'd really rather outsource.

No one makes me do any of these dull, irritating, necessary chores. Indeed, I've chosen to live my life like this. Like all lives, it's an imperfect one, but I wouldn't trade it for any other. I have the best job I can imagine for myself. I think I live in the best apartment in the best neighborhood in the best city on earth. And I love my family more than words can say. I've got it all, baby, and yet it's rendered imperfect by the dull, irritating, necessary chores. We could, like we've done several times in our lives, reset the whole thing by making big life changes, but after having changed jobs, cities, and homes many times before, I know it would only be a matter of time before the necessary evils of life come to consume their fair portion of my day-to-day life. 

I'm living the life of my dreams, yet I spend much of my time doing things I'd rather not be doing, and that is a fact with which we must all learn to deal.

Critics and doubters of play-based preschool often want to know if we are getting the kids "kindergarten ready," or even, as is the case with the corporate education reformers, "college and career ready." Oh sure, they see how children, left to learn through their instinct to play, develop a joyful eagerness about learning, about going to school, about life, but, they ask, "What happens when they're faced with things they don't want to do?" suggesting, at least in part, that we're not doing a very good job of preparing children for these dull, irritating, necessary chores. "If all they do is play, when do they learn to work?"

It would be a laughable concern if their "solutions" didn't suck the joy out of life, leaving too many of us so focused on the dull, irritating, and necessary that we no longer have time for the life of our dreams. In preschool it might be about learning to sit still, to spend too many hours indoors, to be quiet, to walk in lines. As we get older, it's about the tedium of memorization, of drilling, homework, and testing. When we say, "But when do they play? When do they pursue their dreams?" they answer, "When the work is done."

Naturally, the work is never done because the dull, irritating, and necessary will always fill up any empty space you leave. The only way to counter that is to play first: that's how to live the life of your dreams. When play is the foundation upon which our lives are built, we place those inevitable chores in the service of our dreams rather than the other way around. And that's the only way to live.

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Papa Green Bean said...

When children grow up in an environment of freedom to play, make choices, explore and experiment, they become confident and curious naturally. It is these qualities (intrinsic motivation) that drive the growing child and then adult to find 'work' that is a pleasure and not a chore.
I hope you find a bright young person to help you with the tedious preparation at your school. I'm sure that there are people out there that would love to help you out.

Judy said...

I love this post. It is true that the dull jobs of life will fill as much space as we allow them, and I have to consciously let my carpet get one day dirtier so I can spend that day hanging out with my daughters instead of hoovering it. Thank you for showing I am not the only one!