Slice of Life: Play, Learning and School

This weekend I found a tweet that captured me and led me to a TED talk.

After watching it…

I felt guilty about the sports activities my children dutifully performed for years.

I thought about my students, their recess time and how limited it is. I thought about their class time and how long it is relative to play.

Then #caedchat started. This is a really, really fast chat; I usually miss 90% of the tweets and loose the thread quickly but for this topic, I was willing to try.

First question:

I thought and watched.

Tweets included words like joy, unstructured, choice, engagement, and of course the great Mr. Rogers.

Second question:

Ok wow. To get to this I needed to get clear on my definition of play. First I thought, play is doing something just because it is fun. Something that made me smile or laugh out loud. My (decidedly nerdy) “play” is my choice and completely engaging. It shifts easily from one thing to the next. There is a sense of wandering and wonder. When I play I’m absorbed by it, and with it.  Time just doesn’t exist.

Now, consider the idea of learning and play. Do they sit side by side?

Learning requires engagement. Learning requires practice: doing something again and again until we reach a level of mastery, of knowledge. Play is a deep form of engagement so it is clearly a conduit for learning.

Now consider school and learning. Is school sitting on the same bench as learning? Is learning taking up two different spaces at school: one in the classroom and one on the playground? Are we using the power of play in our students’ best interest?

I wondered what my students considered play in the classroom. Is there anything they think of as play? So I asked. (#scarytodo)  Admittedly I had to stretch their definition of play a bit. School is about someone else setting the agenda not them.  Here’s their “play-like” list, in no particular order:

experiments, drama, genius hour, iPads, blogging, read aloud, field trips, graphic novels, colored markers, writing what I want, drawing, talking

Good to know.

And what if…

  • students never spent more than an hour in class before they moved to another space to play
  • playtime was offered not just as outside time but in maker spaces
  • educators spent time quantifying the value and necessity of play in learning along with depths of knowledge

What do you think? How doable is play? How necessary is play? What can we do?

9 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Play, Learning and School

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this video and the tweets with some interesting people to follow. Play is definitely important to development. Peter Gray’s talk and the Fred Rogers quote both confirm that. But one only needs to look at the faces of children engaged in play and compare them with the faces of children on set drill and practice tasks in school to know that what Peter and Fred say is true. The rise in mental health issues for children in deplorable. We need to look at what we are doing to our children in this season of assessment, data collection and ratings and find better ways of supporting their growth through from childhood to adulthood. As Peter Gray says, they need less school, not more school; perhaps better school, not more school. Hear! Hear!

  2. I think play is essential in life and in education! The “how” is harder to figure out! I find when students are doing something fun, they equate it to being easy (because they are enjoying themselves). That’s terrific, but I feel like it looks less rigorous, does that make sense? Thank you for sharing the TED video and for making me really think about such a timely and important topic!

  3. I find it hard to believe we are having this conversation. Play used to be a natural part of the day. Now with all the crazy testing mandates, play is being totally put away and replaced with CCSS. Where is the standard for play?
    I watched this TedTalk and felt angry. Creativity and problem solving are so much a part of play. We must find ways to weave it back in.

  4. I think this is such a thought provoking post. I absolutely believe in play, and have been searching for ways to recapture it in my classroom. It’s funny, because I feel guilty and like I need to defend the play. (I teach first grade!) But I do think through choice we can bring a sense of play back into our classrooms. Thank you for the thoughts.

  5. I am very interested in the connections between play and learning. I wish we had real respect for the power and importance of play, that’s taken seriously in Finland. I play right here and it takes focus and patience. Certainly not frivolous, right? Loved reading your post today. I’m inspired.

  6. The primary teachers have seen change through the years with their students and make time to have conversations about play because they see a need to ‘teach’ those students how to play. Fewer and fewer have sandboxes, and often parents say that many of the toys have been put away and ask (really!) for homework. In my middle school aged classroom, choice to me is a part of their ‘play’, the ability to experiment & choose how to approach topics is key to the motivation and engagement. Many of the assignments are very open-ended. What a wonderful lot of questions you have here, Julieanne!

  7. As a teacher and a mother, I’m so with Mr. Rogers – play IS the work of childhood! I think this is being taken away in those primary years – so many planned and scheduled activities, and every one of them is adult led. I see the effects of this on my sixth graders – but by the time they get to me, the way the school day is structured, play is difficult to incorporate. Not impossible, but difficult. Such a thoughtful post, Julieanne.

  8. I’m also “with Mr. Rogers” – we must play to learn…my best learning still comes alongside a great yoga workout, a fabulous run or walk, solving a puzzle, laughing with friends…to me playing involves movement and “free choice” (me deciding what I want to do!)…schools need more play, more flexibility.

  9. This is a terrific post, Julieanne! I think play is absolutely necessary, which changes the question to not if, but how? We are grappling with this in my district. If you figure it out, let me know!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s