Taking On This Four-Letter Word One More Time!

Play. It’s a four-letter word that continues to have a negative connotation, or so it seems. I’m not talking here about teacher-directed play, or contrived play scenarios. I’m talking about free play. Truly free. Letting children do what they love to do, and watching them, talking with them, and trying — when appropriate — to extend this play or make links to other expectations. In Ontario, we have a Kindergarten Program Document, and it’s one that I absolutely love, for play is at the forefront of it. The second sentence on the first page of text makes it clear that this document is about more than expectations, but also pedagogical approaches.And yet, as clear as this message is, as wonderful as it is, and as amazing as this program can be, I find that there are so many of us out there that find the need to justify the value and importance of play. This truly makes me sad, for I wonder what impact these pedagogical approaches would have on ALL learners: not just the ones in Kindergarten

Yesterday afternoon, I read this wonderful blog post by Janet Raymond: a fellow Kindergarten educator and one of the terrific people who teaches next door to us. I love Janet’s focus on “building brains,” and the value in open-ended tasks that are beyond just memorized learning. Please don’t get me wrong: I believe in the importance of teaching children how to read, and supporting them in developing their academic skills. I also think that when we teach these skills in context, their ability to remember them and apply them in other situations, increases. The Kindergarten Program Document actually discusses the importance of this contextual learning, and I observe the value of this every single day in the classroom. 

So how can we combine this risk-taking, problem solving, whole body movement, and academic expectations? I can’t help but think back to this example from Friday. While I published this post on our class blog, I’m also going to share it here, for I think that it helps outline how problem solving and gross motor play can also connect with reading, writing, math, and meaningful mini-lessons happening ANYWHERE.

The Bug Graveyard

(Note that the comment that’s in this video happened after the initial comment that I wrote in the PicCollage. I asked Evan to explain it to me again, and his word choice changed slightly.)

Next Steps??

This whole experience is such a wonderful example of empathy. I wonder how we can get these children to inspire others — even in different grades — to be just as empathetic.

From a literacy viewpoint, I see the possibility for more mini-lessons on vowel sounds and comparing different vowels (in both reading and writing). In terms of math, we can look at how to form different numerals, and provide even more number printing opportunities in meaningful contexts.

Making these links isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always look the same for each child. But when we teach skills in context, students don’t just learn the rote knowledge, but they understand the importance of these skills and can apply them in different situations. I think of this fantastic conversation that happened a few days earlier as the students made their initial bug graveyard. They had another sign on this graveyard, but then they had to engage in a lot of problem solving to determine where and how to affix the sign. During this discussion, you can hear the concern over other people not being able to “read the words.”

A day later, and in a different situation, reading is what inspired this same student to create pictures to go with the words.Our classroom program is just about as play-based as you can get. We spend our day playing outside and inside, and we only meet for a short period of time as a class. That said, we don’t expect that our students learn by osmosis, and we do support learning, but without sacrificing play. In the end, I hope that our children will leave Kindergarten with strong problem solving skills, independence, a willingness to take risks, some “major grit” (as this previous student shared with us last year), as well as the foundational skills in language and math. I keep reminding myself that for academics to continue to flourish, students also need these other equally important skills: problem solving, independence, risk-taking, and perseverance.

Real learning happens in Kindergarten, and play is an important part of this real learning. This is not my first time blogging about play, and I’m sure that it won’t be my last, for I think that it’s a conversation that needs to continue. When we share concerns about play, do we do so because of our fear of students not learning enough or our own discomfort on what this learning could look like in the classroom and/or how to support this learning in unconventional ways? Sometimes it’s good to be uncomfortable. What do you think?


2 thoughts on “Taking On This Four-Letter Word One More Time!

  1. I love everything about this post Aviva! Your documentation of play experiences highlights the beautiful time in which we live, and the possibilities inherent in nurturing,capturing, and reflecting on play. It is a critical conversation that we must have as educators and parents trying to navigate our fast-paced and complex culture. Thank you for always celebrating play in its most organic form. The more we bring it to the forefront, the more we protect and elevate possibilities for our children. This is not a time to push down play, it is a time to bring it to the surface and acknowledge the ways in which it truly nurtures development, creativity, innovation, and empathy.

    Additionally, I think it is an important conversation to have with our children. Rather than keeping our documentation and conversations to ourselves, I think it is important to bring it to the table for our children. We can begin by reflecting with children on their own play. However, we can extend their connection by sharing beyond their immediate world. Sharing documentation of play experiences between children across the world sends a very clear message to our little ones that we honor their work in the form of play. I would love to use pieces of documentation from this post as part of preparation for play in our outdoor classroom this week.

    I just wrote a post on my blog highlighting the ways in which sharing play through digital documentation has elevated the process of play and learning in our Kindergarten classroom. Sharing of play gives us the opportunity to develop thoughtful, digital citizens who will someday participate in global collaboration as adults. For the first time ever, we have the opportunity to scaffold digital experiences, providing them roots in empathy and global thinking from the time they are young. The potential impact on society that we can have by honoring and sharing through play is extremely powerful.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Jessica, and your kind words. I would love for you to use pieces of this documentation as you plan for outdoor learning this week. It would be great to know how things go and what your students end up doing.

      I absolutely agree with you about the importance of sharing this documentation with children and through digital documentation. While many students look at our documentation at home with their parents, we also look at it in the classroom. Sometimes we bring up the blog on our SMART Board, and discuss learning to hopefully further it through play. And sometimes, we print this documentation, and put it out around the room and in some documentation binders. Students love looking at this documentation, even from last year, and going back to things they’ve done before. This year, we made an outdoor documentation binder, with the documentation in plastic sleeves inside of it. We put it outside in the morning at one of the two picnic tables. Some students love looking through it, discussing what they see, and even going back to re-explore past ideas. Thanks for reminding me about this!


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