In “play” we learn to communicate, to cooperate, and to be in close vicinity without loosing our temper. Play teaches youngsters to experience fear, to be risky, and to practice social and emotional skills. Researchers have done studies of depriving animals from “play” and as the young animals develop, they are socially crippled. So, why does play disappear as children get older? It’s almost as though we have built expectations that once people learn how to communicate, cooperate, and socialize, that these skills will forever be embedded in them, and don’t need to be practiced. Problem is, like anything in life, “if you don’t use it- you loose it.”
Humans must practice being playful- playful in their careers, playful in their interactions- playful with themselves. In my eyes, sometimes we all need to “get a little messy,” in order to learn. People take things so seriously, but giving up a bit of expectation and enjoying the moment in a playful way could perhaps be the easiest solution to burn-out. When play does not happen, the seriousness can easily become too much. That’s when people turn to stress-relievers, such as drugs and alcohol. That’s also when people get angry- like cursing out the Starbucks lady because she didn’t hear that you wanted a “extra” cream. The implications are disasterous. Disasatrous for yourself, but also for those around you. Without play, we loose our imaginations and our freedom of expression.
Over the last 50-60 years we have been gradually taking play away. There has been a continuous erosion of children’s freedom and opportunity to play. “Childhood has turned from a time of freedom to a time of resume building.” (Ted talks)
This weeks readings and TED talks about video games was the perfect reminder about how students can learn from gaming. Often, the skills of a game can only can be solved if you bring in a multitude of different skill sets. Each person must undersatnd the big picture so they can itegrate their skill set with the other people’s skill sets. Cross-functional team (a high tech workplace system), become necessary during this time. Every member of the team has to be able to understand everyone else’s roll so they can integrate with them, even replacing them when they are gone. In our careers, this is extremely stressful, but in games this integration system is, “fun.”
In my personal life, this week, I fell into play during a yoga class. Yoga?! Play?! Typically, many may think of yoga being call and response. In class last night, however, my teacher was playful. She made us “get messy!” We fell out of poses, we tried new things, and it was FUN! The fear of failure disappeared as soon as I fell over during my “attempted hand-stand.” Had my instructor not gone into the practice with play in mind, I would have not only been mortified, but my spirits would have been crushed. I would have felt like the worst yogi in the room, and have gotten really down on myself and my practice. Instead, Lynsey put on loud music, stopped us from the “typical routine” and said, “guys, let’s play! You’re all so serious…WHY!?! Let. It. GO!!” She put on the song, “Yoga Break Dance,” and said, “Go! Play! Be silly. Handstand, headstand, crow…something! Something new, something scary…just do it!” And, we did. The implication of that was freedom! It was fun. It was a moment to experience growth. For all the new people to yoga, they may have felt inequity as they rolled out their mat next to rock-hard yogi’s. To them, the experience of playing at their own level increased what they could access during last night’s practice. This is what equity is all about.
Another example of play in this same yoga class was that we started off the class hugging 5 people. Lynsey wanted to stress how incredible the yoga community is, and instructed us to get up and give five hugs to people we either knew, or didn’t know! This reminds me of the reading from last week, in regards to passion. When people become passionate about something, they discuss and blend with other people of their kind. They become connected. A whole community begins. Technical, specialist language begins. This is a learning opportunity which brings equity to the students who aren’t the “traditional textbook learners.” Although my example is something that happened outside of “school,” my yoga studio serves as my own personal classroom for growth.
Another moment this week that I experienced play was in my other grad class, STEM. On Wednesday night my professor gave us materials to create play dough. Our design challenge was to make the perfect play dough, as close to store bought dough. My group and I had to experiment in order to find the perfect consistency. Then we had to make the “best” play dough. Our group collaboratively came up with adding hand lotion to ours- which made it smell delicious! Then, we added food die. Next, we put glitter in it. It felt like we were just talking and playing, but we really learned a lot! We learned how important trial and error is, and we applied our knowledge of solids, liquids, mixtures, and chemical engineering as we imagined, planned, created, tested, and improved a play dough making process. (Interested? Check out Engineering is Elementary, http://www.eie.org/eie-curriculum/resources/improving-play-dough-process-kindergarten-west-palm-beach-fl).
The best part about our activity was that I become much more invested in the learning. When our professor teaches us about Science concepts, I completely loose interest and my take-away from class is minimal. After creating play dough, however, I walked away with knowledge of mixtures- but also feeling successful, happy and energized.
A project that I tried this week with the my class was bringing technology into the classroom in a silly and meaningful way. I teach fourth grade. When I was in fourth grade my teacher, Mrs. Gaul, required us to write letters to an assigned pen-pal. My pen-pal lived in Skoki, Illinois. Her and I wrote letters all year, and really enjoyed it. (As I shared earlier, I love writing…especially letters!) Heather and I wrote for years after…and all through high school and even college! At 25, I flew out to Illinois to meet her at her wedding. This past summer, at age 30, Heather flew to Pennsylvania for MY wedding! The connection was awesome, as we essentially grew up “together.” Every year I tell my students about Heather, and the impact of communicating through writing. Tomorrow, I am going to Skype with Heather in front of my classroom. The purpose of this will be to show my students a new piece of technology, but also to start the conversation of communicating, and connecting. I think it’s important for my students to hear stories like this, and to realize that two people can be connected even if they have different skin types, different backgrounds, and come from different faiths. Heather and I have so much in common, yet we are two completely different people! I love this, and I cannot wait for my kids to “meet” Heather tomorrow on Skype!!
In my own classroom, I try and incorporate play in many ways. A simple way is through games. In math my fourth graders must learn their times tables. Some of my students are very reluctant to practice their flashcards. This year, every Friday my students have a 24 challenge. It’s amazing how quickly my kids wanted to learn their facts, since not knowing them means getting out of the challenge right away which nobody wanted to do! When my children got out of the game their work was to learn their times tables with flashcards at their seats. The implication of this type of play was motivation- the kids were motivated to learn their facts!
Another similar concept is in Language Arts. During guided reading, I allow my students to “play” at a magnetic poetry station. Students love the freedom to free-write poetry, or funny sentences. They know their sentences need to be complete, free of fragments. They quickly learned what makes a sentence a sentence and they learned parts of speech through this exercise. I have noticed more creative thinkers from this activity. My students ask me if they can create new magnets, adding words to the collection. This reminded me a bit about the fractured stories that was shared with us during this week’s readings.
In college, one of the neatest projects I ever did was in my “Teaching Children’s Literature” class. My professor read us a few Eric Carl books, and then told us that we were going to publish our own books, inspired by painting. She set up different stations around the room. Each station was a painting station, but we used different objects to create the pages. At one, we had marbles in a throw-away oven pan. We put the paper down, a few splashes of paint, and then rolled marbles around over the paper.
Then, we went to a yarn station where we painted the paper with yarn.
We went to a sponge painting station, a finger painting station, etc. The next day we came to class and looked at all our pages. From here, we had to cut out pictures from the papers and then create a story around it. Each page was made up of the paintings, and could also have hand drawn pictures around it. We used blue plastic wrap, tin foil, and sand paper as well to create texture. It was so much fun!
At the time, I didn’t realize what the point of the project was other than to have fun. Now, thinking back, this was one of the most creative ways to have children make a book! Now only that, but, from my four years of college THIS single moment is one that is the clearest memory I have from class. What an investment in the curriculum when a student starts from scratch, paints their own pictures AND tells a whole story about it.
In terms of Equity,
Courts of law say that students have the same opportunity to learn if they get the same book. The opportunity to learn isn’t the book. It’s whether you can bring experience to the book, and what you can do with knowledge outside of the pages. When we think about going back to how I started, when kids play a video game they don’t “read a manual.” Instead, they play. They figure it out. They uncover the language in a way that’s meaningful to them. THIS is how we should be teaching.
Providing students with choice, and with play allows them to invest in the learning. When they enjoy what they learn, they will get a lot more out of it.
SO, LET’S PLAY!