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.)
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?