On Tuesday, my teaching partner, Paula, and I went to the Board Office to share our findings as part of a Kindergarten Networking Group that we have been involved in this year. There were multiple teams of educators from around the Board that identified a need based on previous EDI results, explored how to address this need, and then reflected on the process. Listening to the presentations caused Paula and I to think a lot, question a lot, and examine some new possibilities. At multiple times during the day, different educator teams talked about “purposeful play.” It was the use of these words that led to me sending out a tweet, and engaging in an ongoing conversation with Kristi Keery-Bishop and Jill Snider about what I wrote.
@avivaloca this phrase always makes me wonder though, is there any play that isn't purposeful? How do we decide if it is or isn't?
I think Kristi and Jill make really important points here, and I’ve thought even more about this discussion as the week progressed.
It all started during our outdoor learning time. Paula and I do not plan this time. We do not put out provocations, set-up activities, or restrict areas. Based on the number of staff members outside during this time, students can move freely between our outdoor classroom and the forest. Thinking about the Kindergarten Networking conversation on “purposeful play,” I wondered, would people see this play as “purposeful?” Maybe not. It lacks your typical structure, but it provides all kinds of purpose for students.
- For those children that need to run, they do.
- For those children that want or need to climb, they do.
- For those children that like the challenge of balancing, they try, persevere, and problem solve during this time.
- For those children that want a quiet space to connect with friends, they find this spot outside.
- For those children that want to write, they take this writing outside … and sometimes they even go and get a clipboard to bring this writing outside in the middle of play.
- For those children that want to build, they find different reasons and opportunities to do so. They problem solve throughout the process.
- For those children that want to tell stories, they do so outside.
Deciding on a story to tell in the forest. pic.twitter.com/xJykrmSdxp
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) March 30, 2017
- For those children that want to create art, make music, or engage in dramatic play, they create opportunities for that to happen.
Their version of The 3 Pigs with some tag elements as well. pic.twitter.com/725H3TW9rm
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) March 27, 2017
Telling the story for their 3 Pigs story. pic.twitter.com/6WA5C6mqgy
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) March 27, 2017
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) January 20, 2017
I worry about what happens if we replace this kind of learning with structured alternatives. It’s as the students decide what they want to do in this outdoor space that they get what they need from the outdoors. This time helps many students self-regulate. It also sets the tone for the rest of the day. If children leave this space happy and calm, these feelings tend to continue when they come inside. We also often extend the learning from outside, indoors. Children have done this a lot this year, as they have taken logs from outside and brought them in to create numerous dinosaurs. This experience has led to reading, writing, math, and artistic problem solving experiences. If left up to me, the first dinosaur log would have never made it indoors, but thanks to my amazing teaching partner, I started to see things differently.
Our Second Dinosaur Log
Maybe when it comes to “purposeful play,” we also need to be pushed to see things differently.
- We have to watch closely and listening carefully to kids. We have to figure out the child’s “purpose” for the play.
- We have to use the “noticing and naming” component in our updated Kindergarten Program Document as a way to link what children are doing to program expectations.
- We have to be patient. Sometimes it takes a while to see where the learning is going and the connections to the various program expectations.
- We have to use the questions that Stuart Shanker asks all the time — Why this child? Why now? — to think more about why children are saying and doing what they’re doing and to explore new ways to meet their needs. Maybe if we’re getting louder play and more problems, students are not telling us that they need “more structure,” but instead, a change of environment (e.g., moving from indoors to outdoors) or the reduction of a stressor (e.g., a quieter space or the use of headphones).
- We have to continue to develop strong relationships with kids. When we have these relationships, we will have a better understanding of what children really need and how we can support them.
I worry though if play is only seen as “purposeful” when it meets our greater goal. The Kindergarten Program Document explicitly states that we are supposed to start with the child’s interests and make the links to program expectations. I wonder if more structured play — especially play that is only structured by educators — holds true to this important component of the program document. I also wonder what message it communicates to children about being “competent and capable,” and if this aligns with the message that we want to send to them. How do we remember to see purpose in all play that’s happening in the classroom and value in the many things that our students are doing? I think our children deserve to have us view their play as purposeful, meaningful, developmentally-appropriate, and important. What about you?