Much has been written in recent years about the value of PLAY. I emphasize the word because it has taken on so much more than the obvious meaning in the field of education. Until recently, “play” time in American schools was relegated to recess and very early childhood imagination centers. Play was seen as a release, a time to be wasted on running off steam or learning how to share toys. Studies in brain science suggests otherwise. Play is actually a valuable tool for educating the whole mind, body and spirit of humans, as well as many in our animal kingdom. Any trip to the zoo will provide hours of watching animals at play. We now know they are prepping for life in a community and will be better equipped for survival because of these frivolous engagements.
Stuart Brown wrote a wonderful book on the subject titled, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. I enjoyed reading it cover to cover several years ago and highly recommend it as a source of inspiration. He went on to create a National Institute for Play. Quoting from the home page, “Play is the gateway to vitality. By its nature it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. It generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community.” The message Brown sends to everyone is that “play” is not for a certain age, grade level, gender, or social economic group. Rather, we all benefit from play and suffer from sufficient lack of play. He begins the book talking about his research on serial killers and mass shooting suspects. This led him to discover the horrific consequences that may be related to a childhood that was deprived of this very basic need. Not to scare the reader, however his institute does present some compelling research that supports encouraging play. I have included a link to his research below.
Famous psychologist Jean Piaget says, “play is the work of childhood.” To support the students during any developmental stage, the work they do is through the lens of play. As educators in a school that values progressive ideas and works to stay current with brain research, we place renewed value on experiences in the classroom that use play as a means of exploration and retention. The youngest students in our Reggio Emelia inspired classrooms explore an “investigation” through hours of play. They learn important lessons about the natural world and the community they inhabit by playing. Recent explorations of planes, vehicles, restaurants, and rocks (subjects carefully chosen by the children) used curiosity, imagination, and role-playing to build understanding. In our second grade this week the girls are learning about economics and entrepreneurship through a playful simulation. They signed “loans” from the business office and will attempt to pay them back and walk away with a profit when they host their mini-marketplace next week. Our fifth grade girls ran elections a few weeks ago and have organized themselves into the House and Senate of the lower school putting forth bills and lobbying for change. They presented two bills that passed both governing bodies and were excited to have the motion move forward- fifth grade girls will have an extra study hall to stay organized and will gain the privilege of wearing colored sneakers rather than the uniform white starting Monday!
I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.
- If you are in Kindergarten- What did you learn about your animal during the research part of your latest project? What was your favorite part of the assignment?
- If you are in First Grade- Why are you collecting items for Paul’s Place? What does it mean to do “community service”? Did you enjoy the activity on Friday that involved learning about honeybees? What did you and your big buddy add to your “Save the Bees” poster?
- If you are in Second Grade- Did it make you nervous to sign a loan agreement with Mr. Booth from the business office? How is developing your product going?
- If you are in Third Grade- How are you enjoying the novel, Matilda?Do you enjoy the book or the movie in most cases? What have you learned about the 13 colonies and the main causes that contributed to the start of the Revolutionary War?
- If you are in Fourth Grade- Did you perform for the Multicultural Night? What non-profit organization will you be researching? What does non-profit mean? What did your “quilt” tell about you?
- If you are in Fifth Grade- What part did you play in the government reenactment your class held? Did you agree with the debates on the floor of the House and Senate? Do you support the bills that were passed?