During the month of January, our division hosts elementary grade level meetings. As a superintendent, I always try to attend parts of these meetings. It allows me to interact with our front-line staff and provides me with a great learning opportunity. Although I typically have something to contribute, I always come away from these meetings with far more to reflect upon. The conversations remind me of the importance of being a learner, especially in my role.
In the last number of years since I’ve been attending, I’ve noticed a fairly consistent dialogue on the importance of student engagement. Teachers don’t share worksheets but rather innovative games, programs and pedagogy that they are using to ensure high levels of student engagement. This is music to my ears when I hear, “My students love doing this and I’m seeing their improvement , their growth, their learning.” In education, this is the Holy Grail, as we’ve combined student interest with student learning. What a novel thought?
So much of this engagement revolves around the principle of play. While the Oxford Dictionary defines play as to “Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious of practical purpose” I prefer the notion of play as defined by Mr. Rogers:
Play is serious learning; the fact that it happens to be fun…well that’s just a bonus. We’ve come to believe the Oxford Dictionary definition of play in that it has no serious or practical purpose. How wrong and how unfortunate! Students in school and especially young children learn to create and dream during play. They develop communication and collaboration skills through play. They learn to share, take turns, discover and solve problems. Funny, isn’t that what we want for our 21st Century Learners?
A high percentage of high school dropouts has been linked to boredom in school. Given that, play (in the broadest sense) must be a K-12 principle and not just something they do in that “kindergarten” room! Play is about being interactive and being hands on. It may involve running but often just getting up and moving around will suffice. And while it may look vastly different in each class and every grade, great teachers find a way to “play” every day!
The importance of play in our schools cannot be understated and it cannot continue to be devalued by the pundits of the “back to the basics” movement. Play is an integral part of a child’s development and it is critical in the learning process. Play engages students! We continue to structure our world into either/or and yet the best way forward contain and/both. The pendulum has to find some middle ground to acknowledge the importance of play in the lifelong learning process. Engaged students equal committed learners and play facilitates that engagement!