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?