I have written here about play and the ways that we have played for 9 years. In those years, I have learned some things and changed my mind about some things. I've found allies and ran into some critics.
I have taught preschoolers in art camp and in choir, taught kindergartners at church, taught first and second graders in public school.
I have talked with professors and other teachers in a variety of settings. I have listened to administrators and thought leaders and politicians. I have read blogs and books and tweets.
As I think back through those nine years and all those interactions, I have a few reflections.
- Preschoolers and older kids play and will continue to play and learn through play. On their own, children play. And they learn and try and fail and help one another and experiment and grow in their knowledge and skills. They will do this without the intervention or in spite of the intervention of adults. Children play because that is what they have been designed to do.
- Lots of things that adults do and impose on children in the name of education are not helpful and could be harmful. Even well-intentioned adults make some less-than-helpful choices. This usually happens when adults focus on things other than the children and their development.
- There are lots of good ways to be an effective teacher, an engaging educator. Some of those ways are right in my ballpark and some are not. But someone who doesn’t do things exactly my way isn’t necessarily a "less good" (or "more good") teacher.
- In most cases, we should strive for balance. When looking at things like technology, literacy, independent learning, projects, crafts, or whatever, often the best course is a middle one. We should choose things intentionally and purposefully.
- We do best when we listen to the children. Listen to what they are telling us by their behavior. If they are wiggling and squirming and shouting, they may be telling us that what we’re asking of them isn’t appropriate for this group of kids. We are doing something too long or too complicated or too uninteresting (from their viewpoints). Listening to the behavior tells us it’s time to adjust.
- We should also listen to the children through conversation and talking with them. Children are looking for adults to listen to what they say. I can learn what fears are troubling them, what family situations are going on, what interests may be a key to further learning…if I just listen to the words coming out of their mouths. I love to have conversations with children. I ask questions or just say, “tell me about it.” And they will and do.
- Speak a kind word. Look for a teachable moment when a child is helping a friend or exploring an idea. Notice. Tell the child that you notice. Children often hear lots of things they are not doing right or well. Help them discover their successes.
- We all know exactly what to do….until that one child comes along to explode our pet theory. Every time I have things all figured out, I get a class that helps me discover new and uncharted areas.
- A group of children think that the adult in their world is more important than any other celebrity. (Just see one outside the classroom and you'll know what I mean!)
- Grace goes a long way. Yes, we will all mess up or have a bad day. But after you deal with it, it’s over. The Vegas rule is usually the best one - what happens here stays here. And what happened yesterday stays in yesterday. Today is a new day to engage with one another and start fresh. (If there's a persistent problem, take steps to address it. Otherwise, every day is a new day.)
Nothing profound. Nothing revolutionary. And maybe nothing that you didn't already know long ago. But these things help me think about how I approach the classroom and how I interact with young children.
I plan to be here, blogging about these and other playing/learning topics for a while yet. And remember the most important thing: Playing = Learning (for children and adults) Go out and play today!