Saturday, January 18, 2014

I let my students play.

I feel like I should be at a meeting making a secret confession or something when I say that I let my children play.  At the end of school before vacation, with all of the magic of the season, I felt more and more like we had lost some of the magic of childhood in school.

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.  Before break, 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 solve, imagine, discuss differences, or figure out how to have fun on their own with free time. 

I am so thankful for all of the great ideas I find on your different blogs and at TPT that combine learning with play and interaction. 

I have "free choice" time each day. 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.  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.

Yes, I have sight words on blocks and Legos.  Yes, the children write books, make cards, play post office and play teacher.  Yes, the children take restaurant orders or write veterinarian prescriptions.  But they learn so much more that that. They actually have real life opportunities to practice the character education lessons and object lessons that they have learned.

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 to 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.

I can justify "play" 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.

I will not whisper that I have playtime in my classroom each day. I will be proud of it and the life lessons that come with it. 

I wrote this post about play right before Christmas break, and then didn't print it for some reason. 

After break, I have started feeling sort of overwhelmed with everything my Kindergartners need to accomplish and learn, and thought maybe I did need those few extra minutes each day that I allot to Free Choice to squeeze in yet another lesson.  Until today 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.

It is a wonderful article and I felt like I read it for a reason today.  Here are some of my reasons!


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