Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Remember to Play Every Day!

I feel like I should be at a meeting making a secret confession or something when I say that I let my children play, but I will not whisper that I have playtime in my classroom each day.  I am proud of it and the life lessons that come with it.

It used to be that people looked at kindergarten teachers as lucky people who got to play all day with cute children.  I am sure some people (who have never actually been in a classroom) still see it this way.  Last year, a  kindergarten teacher at another school whispered to me that she still lets her children play each day- but doesn't dare let anyone know.  She shuts her door and tells no one.  She would never tell, she said.  Later that afternoon, another friend, a fifth grade teacher, told me how her students don't know how to play board games or any game without tattling and coming to her to solve any issue that arises. They don't know how to play with each other.

I  feel like we are raising a generation of children who do not play and do not know how to play. They can play Candy Crush or online "board games" quietly by themselves without real-life interactions. They "play" on sports teams from a young age, but it is still organized play where they are told what to do.  Because of this, children don't get to practice interacting (with real  human friends), problem solving, imagining, discussing differences, or figuring out how to have fun on their own free time.

I have "free choice" time each day, which I will protect with all I've got.  During this time, my children PLAY.  I want to change it in my plan book to PLAYTIME.

It isn't a long period of time, but during this time, I work with individuals one on one, do art projects with groups at a time, and some days- just play with them.  PLAY WITH THEM.  Guess which days are their favorites?

I am included in the best conversations.  I get a glimpse into their real lives: the authentic parts of my students' lives.  I laugh with them.  I see how they learn the best.  I model appropriate behaviors and responses to situations.  I help the children learn to be problem solvers, communicators, and creative thinkers.  I encourage creativity.  I build confidence in students who may struggle in academic areas, but are clever and creative.  And I gain their trust as people, because at playtime, I am playing with them.  They are the leaders.

We expect children to come up with story ideas every day during Writer's Workshop.  They need to write what they know from their experiences. We wonder why it is so difficult for them to think of something to write.  Playtime experiences are the seeds for these stories.  They are the foundation of friendships.  They let children imagine, create, and become who they are- not who we expect them to be every other minute of the day.  I love to see how they respond to a situation naturally, not because I am telling them how to do it.  They learn that being kind is how friendships are made and kept.  I can teach lesson after lesson, but playtime provides the opportunity to make those lessons mean something in real life.

Play can be justified as a learning opportunity with well-planned centers for learning.  I just wish I didn't think I would have to justify it. I wish it were recognized as important on its own merit.  I want it to stand on its own value  as a critical learning time for children.

Sitting on our school's RTI committee and listening to parents with upper elementary age children complain at my parent conferences, I see more and more children discouraged, crying, hating school, and wanting to give up by 3rd grade.  Many children  feel overwhelmed and stupid. They go home to more homework, not playtime with friends or outlets for what may be their strengths.  This breaks my heart.

I don't know the "fix."  I realize there is SO much material to cover and not enough time to do it all.  I know that playtime is the first thing to go.  I know that "playing" doesn't seem to go with the rigor of "school."  I do know that children  need time to play and be children.

As we head back to school and start feeling sort of overwhelmed with everything our students need to accomplish and learn, it's easy to think that maybe we do need those few extra minutes each day that are alloted to Free Choice to squeeze in yet another lesson.  I stopped second guessing myself when I read  this article by Dr. Peter Gray.

Here is the title:

Here is an excerpt that I found very interesting:

I’m writing, here, in response to the news that the independent School Teachers Review Body is due to report back this week to Michael Gove on his plan to make school days longer and holidays shorter. The Education Secretary’s hope is that more hours in school will raise test scores in the UK to the level of those in China, Singapore and other East Asian nations. Paradoxically, Gove’s proposal has appeared just a few months after the Chinese ministry of education issued a report – entitled Ten Regulations to Lessen Academic Burden for Primary School Students – calling for less time in school, less homework and less reliance on test scores as a means of evaluating schools.

Educators in East Asian nations have increasingly been acknowledging the massive failure of their educational systems. According to the scholar and author Yong Zhao, who is an expert on schools in China, a common Chinese term used to refer to the products of their schools is gaofen dineng, which essentially means good at tests but bad at everything else. Because students spend nearly all of their time studying, they have little opportunity to be creative, discover or pursue their own passions, or develop physical and social skills. Moreover, as revealed by a recent large-scale survey conducted by British and Chinese researchers, Chinese schoolchildren suffer from extraordinarily high levels of anxiety, depression and psychosomatic stress disorders, which appear to be linked to academic pressures and lack of play.

I think this is a wonderful article, and here are some of my reasons!


I made this Remember to Play Everyday Prezi, which is free at my TPT Store. It is not an interactive Prezi, more like a power point of favorite reminders of the importance of play in the classroom.

I made this for several reasons.  First of all, I strongly believe in play in the classroom. Hands-on learning is my favorite way to teach, and what I believe to be the most successful way for a child to learn and retain knowledge- I don't care if it is math games or biology! 

In this age of testing, testing, testing, I see the focus shifting away from children's best way to learn to the fastest way to throw knowledge at them.  I guess I just wanted to make myself feel better and prove that there were years of other "experts" who also believed in play as I looked up quotes for the Prezi.  "Play" can mean so many things in the classroom.  It can be free choice or very intentional, but it is always purposeful. We all know that. In our world today, I don't think there can be enough emphasis on treating others kindly, looking someone in the eye when you speak, sharing, and playing well with others.  Children don't get the opportunity to practice this like they used to. I have more teachable moments during free choice time than any other time in my day. Talk about individual instruction!   I know that you teachers are fabulous at incorporating meaningful  play into your school days. We have to be. Sometimes I just see the hours of our Kindergarten day filling up more and more with standards and requirements, and often "play" is the first thing to go, if we aren't careful and protective of it.

Another reason I made this Prezi was that as I look back on past students, one of my happiest successes for one child in particular was through play.  He had a very stressful home life, which manifested itself in all areas of his life.  For the first ten weeks of school, this child did not want to leave my desk during Free Choice time. He just wanted to talk and talk and talk to only me and not interact or make friends. If I did convince him to join a friend, he would have to have his own toy and wanted no part of anything else or the friend for that matter.  He would stay with me and do math facts for the entire Free Choice time if I let him- which I know sounds dreamy for some students, but it was not what he needed.  He was terrified of making a mistake- even though I went through mistake after mistake that I had made to try to  make him feel better. (So much so that he probably thought, "How did YOU ever make it through life so far?!") Whenever we would work on  learning read, he was so unsure of himself that he looked to me after trying every, single word, and would never carry over skills from lessons to independent work.  He could not focus on learning, because he was trying so hard to be "right."

This boy ended year passing a Level F benchmark- (and, of course, was a whiz at math facts)!  BUT- my happiest and biggest success for him was that he left my classroom comfortable with himself, friends with every student in the class- and I could actually mark down that yes, he "PLAYED well with others!"

To the "untrained eye" saying that a child "plays well with others" seems like a given on a report card;  a subheading  just to get to the real grades, the important stuff.  Playing well with others  is the important stuff- and I found the quotes to prove it!

Here are some of my favorites that I put on the Prezi.

 (I love this one so much, and think of it every time my husband and son go off to play golf!)

 (This is my VERY favorite because these 2 princesses are my girls when they were little! :)

So- during this break from school, don't you forget how important play time is, no matter how old you are! ;)  Have fun and ...

I put a link to an interesting Washington Post article about play in the classroom at the bottom of this last picture. 

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