Play: My #OneWord Goal

It’s the end of another year, which means that it’s also time to select my #oneword for 2019. Thanks to some inspiration from Sue Dunlop, I’ve been choosing a single word focus for the past four years. Last year, I focused on questioning. Sue got me to think even more specifically about this goal, when she questioned me on how my questions might change.

As I indicated in my reply to her, I’ve really worked on leading with questions this past year. I’m trying to let other people share their ideas first, and instead of just piping in with my own thoughts, I’m trying to express wonders to keep the conversation going. This is giving me a chance to really listen to what my colleagues, friends, and family members have to say, allowing me to appreciate different perspectives, and at times, slowly inspiring change. Sometimes, I’m really proud of my questions and the wait time I give them, and sometimes, I recognize that I need to improve. My new #oneword goal will allow me to still focus on questioning, but through a different lens. 

I thought that I had my new word figured out, and I was just formulating a blog post in my head when I ran across these two tweets about the same article that George Couros shared yesterday

It was then that I realized that my word for 2019 needs to be playI’ve blogged about “playing” many times before, and I stand up for the tremendous value in free play. 

  • Not “play” as an add-on when the work is done …
  • Not “play” as an adult-directed centre or adult-controlled task for children to complete …
  • Not literacy centres, math bins, or tabletop activities …
  • Not 20 minute blocks of time inside or outside, but extended periods to engage with peers and adults, problem solve, use materials in creative ways, and socialize …
  • And not “play” just for Kindergarten, but what play can be for all grades. 

Even with a Kindergarten Program Document that speaks to the value in “free play,” play continues to have a negative connotation in educational circles. I know that with our Board’s focus on reading in Kindergarten and Grade 1, some educators wonder how “play” aligns with these reading goals. What happens if your principal walks into your classroom and the children are playing? This is a question that I’ve regularly been asked. Here’s how I would respond.

  • I hope that he sees me observing the children as they play.
  • I hope that he sees me chatting with my teaching partner, Paula, about our observations, and making plans on how to extend the learning.
  • I hope that he sees me playing with the children.
  • I hope that he sees me documenting their learning.
  • I hope that he hears me noticing and naming the math and language learning that I observe, and then trying to extend this learning.
  • I hope that he sees the mini-lessons that happen through play, with the overarching question of, “Why this learning, for this child, at this time?”
  • I hope that he comes and joins in on the play, making sense of the learning that he sees based on his observations.
  • I hope that he uses these moments of play to spur conversations between us and the staff as a whole, about the value of play in all grades. 

Recently, we even received the message from some Reading Specialist Teachers in our Board, that reading assessments in Kindergarten should not be done in isolation, but instead, based on our observations through play. Hallelujah! If nothing else, I think this speaks to how our Board is viewing play in Kindergarten. Maybe “play” can be a good word after all. 

All of this being said though, I think back to a conversation that I had with a parent (not a Kindergarten parent, and not a parent of a child in our class) from a couple of months ago. I ran into her at a coffee shop on the weekend, and as we were waiting for our coffees, we started chatting. She shared her reservations of play-based learning based on her experiences from many years ago. This is when I shared some of the stories in this blog post, and the fact that in the past couple of years, our students have met with more reading success than in any other year of my teaching career. Play matters! The Kindergarten Program Document is an amazing resource, which can even inspire questions, wonders, and programming decisions for educators in other grades. 

So what will a focus on “play” mean for me in the upcoming year? 

  • Trying to change perceptions around “play” by sharing our classroom experiences and examples shared through social media. 
  • Bringing examples of “play” to staff meeting and PA Day discussions to help highlight the learning that happens through play. 
  • Asking questions and expressing wonders to other educators — not just those that teach kindergarten — to help inspire play-based learning in other grades.
  • Sharing examples of play in other grades — there are some good examples through Twitter and through some blog posts that I follow — to help reframe thoughts around play beyond kindergarten. 
  • Highlighting “play” in our Daily Blog Posts to continue to emphasize to parents the value of learning through play. 
  • Observe and chat with my teaching partner, Paula, about ways to improve how I can authentically play with kids. (She’s fantastic at this!) How might these play interactions impact on student achievement?

Over the years, I’ve been the teacher that was afraid to say, “We’re playing.” I called play time, 

  • learning time,
  • work time,
  • and free exploration,

but this year, I’m going to happily call it what it is: play. Who’s with me? By keeping play at the forefront of our conversations, I’m hoping to also change perceptions and improve in my ability to “play”: connecting with kids through play. Here’s to a wonderfully playful year! What’s your one word goal for the year? I hope that 2019 is a great year for everyone!


10 thoughts on “Play: My #OneWord Goal

  1. I love that you are going to intentionally share what play based learning looks like during PD meetings. I feel like I don’t fully understand it, and that effects the transition into other grades. I think it also effects the perception of what’s happening all day down in the K classes too.

    When I first saw your word would be “play”, I thought maybe it meant you were going to engage in your own play. :). Having your “one word” as a professional focus instead of a personal focus is interesting to me. I have resisted joining this movement because I can’t narrow my focus. :). Maybe I’d have more success if I thought of a different goal. I’m trying to think of my “One Question” for Maybe this will help!

    • Thanks for your comment, Lisa! I think that if we want to change people’s perceptions of play, we also have to share what it looks like. Usually for our staff meetings and PA Day meetings, our principal asks us to bring a work sample or piece of documentation to share with our PLCs (Professional Learning Communities, which include educators from a few different grades). I usually intentionally ensure that my example includes photographs and videos that happen during play. This is something that I’ve been doing for the past couple of years, but also something that I will ensure that I always do this year. This is not to be a troublemaker 🙂 , but instead, to hopefully show and discuss with others how play is learning. We talk about this a lot, but is it something that everyone truly understands and embraces? Maybe examples will help.

      I will admit that I plan on doing some playing of my own this year, and exploring how I can be even more authentic when playing with kids. I’ve been working on this over the years thanks to some help and modelling from my teaching partner, but I still have more learning to do. Thankfully Paula is a very patient teacher and always willing to help me out.

      For the past few years, my #oneword tends to be more professional than personal. Sometimes the two overlap. My original word for this year would have provided more overlap, but I think that “play” is a better word for me. I hope that you’re able to figure out a word that might work for you, or maybe the question idea will be a better option. I wonder if the word might evolve from the question. Keep me posted!


  2. Your post so resonated with me. Embracing play as a basis for learning was long a tradition in early childhood education. So glad to see many talking about it again. Last year I wrote
    As a substitute teacher my reflections often combine on years past and what’s happening now. So glad I can still be a part of this amazing community of teachers and learners

    • Thanks for your comment, and for sharing this post, Faige! I’m excited to read it. I think that “play” is so important for kids of all ages. I love how you’re still so involved in this community of educators, even though you’re retired. Your voice here is so important.


    • Thanks Faige! Having just read and commented on your #oneword post, I can totally see how your word comes into play here. Connections really are so important, and I’m so glad that I get to connect with you.


  3. What a great word! I always feel I need to defend my play time in my room and would even say I feel guilty at times for not ‘teaching’ enough. I keep getting asked how is this play ‘purposeful’ and told the students need to be aware of what they’re learning and able to communicate why they’re doing what they’re doing. I’m excited to follow along on your journey and build resources and ways to show others just “why” we play.

    • Thanks Jen! I wonder if opinions would change if people saw more “play,” and saw more links between free play and learning. This is why I strive to always bring documentation to staff meetings that show learning through child-directed, free play. If nothing else, it opens up the discussion to why play matters. I’d be curious to know how you answer these questions that you’re asked. Do these kinds of questions help us think even more about the value in play?


  4. What a great word to choose! I am wondering if you would be willing to share your flow of the day with me? I’m always so curious to learn about how other Kindergartens flow.

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