The importance of play!

This past week I visited one of our Pre-Kindergarten classrooms to observe their Science Fair. Imagine that! Four year olds with their parents engaged in neat experiments, laughing and learning through play. When I reflect on the activities I witnessed, two main messages come through loud and clear.

The first message is targeted at parents. It is very unfortunate that our societal norm leaves us with little family time. Working parents are coming home after long hours, exhausted, often forced just to stay afloat. But as difficult as it is, our children require our attention to simply play. What was occurring in this early learning class were “experiments” that were easy to do and fully engaging. This “play” time was not only a positive bonding experience but also a learning opportunity for the children. I would never speak ill of technology but active play is critical for a child’s development. There was such great learning that occurred in the past when children helped parents cook and bake, played hide and seek or explored the wonders of the local park together. Too often we get caught up in “doing homework” instead of losing ourselves in a good book or watching another video instead of playing outside.

The second message goes out to our primary educators. Many years ago, there was a premium when students sat quietly in straight rows of desks and worked independently. That was an example of good classroom management. And while classroom management is important, the true role of school needs to focus on learning. In today’s schools, learning cannot be optimized in straight rows of desks with quiet students. In fact, primary rooms (K-3) should have at the minimum, desks in pods (if desks at all), tables and learning centres where students are actively (which means not quiet) engaged. I will take it one step farther and say that in K-3 classes, play (intellectual and social) should be an integral part of the learning structure.    

For most of the its history, education has been a compliance activity. Those students who sat up, listened, worked independently generally did well based on how we measured success. Today however, we need to move students from being compliant to becoming committed. Learning needs to become a commitment for our students and one way to facilitate that change is to welcome play into your home and your classroom.


    • Michelle MacKinnon on May 21, 2012 at 10:14 AM
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    You are absolutely right. Play = engagement which equals learning. Curiosity and exploration are the foundation of critical thinkers. Thanks.

    • Connie Gross on May 22, 2012 at 1:53 PM
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    Yes, you make some great points. As most of us recall, there is nothing more creative than a young child’s mind. In their attempts to connect ideas, they come up with some very interesting and creative connections.

    I recall the opening lines of a poem we used to teach in English – I believe it was by e.e. cummings: “And down they went as up they grew”, meaning that too often students lose a bit of themselves when they are forced to conform to a structured educational system. I realize that some of what we strive for in our transformation agenda is very idealistic, and that much of what we already do is working well. Nevertheless, although our schools are very loving and warm places, sometimes our need to “get the curriculum done” overshadows our desire to allow students to fully explore ideas on their own terms.
    I am very excited to see what a classroom of the 2020’s will be like, and look forward to seeing a more “playful” system.

    1. I’m hopeful that Alberta Education’s Curriculum Redesign will assist in allowing both teachers and students more flexiblity in choosing their paths and following their passions.

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