Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about “play” and “academics.” Over the years, both online and offline, I’ve engaged in conversations on both of these topics. Many times, “play” and “academics” are seen in terms of two extremes. Not long ago, I was asked if I have more of a “play and social skills classroom program” or if I have more of an “academic one.” I didn’t know how to answer. I still don’t. Can’t we develop academic skills through play?
When I taught Kindergarten six years ago, here were the list of things that I wanted students to learn by the end of Senior Kindergarten:
- All of the letter-names and sounds.
- How to read the “popcorn words” (sight words) and use them in their writing.
- How to read different examples of environmental print.
- How to write a simple sentence (e.g., I see the cat.) using appropriate spacing, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization.
- How to read a Level 4 DRA text, which means reading beyond a pattern book and using various decoding strategies to read different words.
- How to recognize the numerals from 1-10 and create sets of these numbers.
- How to sort objects.
- How to create and extend patterns (preferably beyond AB patterns).
- How to count by 1’s and 10’s to at least 50 (and hopefully 100).
In many ways there’s probably nothing wrong with this list (even now), but I can’t help but look at it and think about what’s missing.
- What about developing oral language skills?
- What about learning how to problem solve independently?
- What about learning how to collaborate with others?
- What about developing self-regulation skills and learning how to truly handle stress?
- Where are the thinking skills? How many items on this list focus only focus on “rote learning?”
- What about learning how to ask questions and explore answers on their own?
- What about the understanding of important concepts/big ideas? (e.g., It’s great that students can count to 10, but why is this important? When will students need to count in their lives? How do we help them develop a good number sense?)
- What about the missing subject areas? How can we use Physical Education, Science, and The Arts to help address different topics of interest and areas of the curriculum?
- How do we explore student passions and interests? What’s the value in doing so?
I still believe in the importance of academics. I know the curriculum expectations, and our planning aligns with and addresses these expectations (from all subject areas). But I also think that academics can be addressed through play, and in meaningful ways that will help students apply and extend their learning. Also, as I look at my students this year and I think about my plan, I wonder if academic needs can be truly met without addressing some social needs/areas first. Why is it that “play” often seems to have a negative connotation? How might we narrow the “play” and “academics” divide? What do you think?