Hey, Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone!
Two children are at kindergarten.
One is wandering the playground, picking up objects that catch his eye. Maybe he brings a friend over to look at them and they start tossing them into the woods. Or maybe he just lines them up on a bench.
In another classroom, another child is at an activity center. There is playdough and the teacher has instructed her to use a cookie cutter to cut out a cat since the class is learning about pets. Then she is supposed to add googly eyes and paint it once it is dry.
Which of these children is "playing"?
Parents, experts, and teachers are talking a lot about play--but, just like new parents and sleep, lots of talk does not mean that play is happening.
On the Washington Post "Answer Sheet" Blog, Alfie Kohn writes that it is "indisputable" that (1) Children should have plenty of opportunities to play; (2) Even young children have too few such opportunities these days, particularly in school settings. He also argues that play is being sneakily re-defined, so that it loses all meaning.
"The point of play, is that it has no point," he goes on to say.
As an educational consultant, I can, and have, argued for the academic benefits of play because articles like that convince communities to let the children play. But even in doing so, I am sucking the spirit right out of the experience. Because once we talk about play in terms of developmental steps and intellectual growth, the temptation creeps in to schedule it, measure it, and manage it to "maximize" those benefits.
Children should play because that is what children do.
I am glad play promotes cooperation, spatial awareness, and creative problem solving. I am even happier, however, that my kids are having fun.
My kids love reading stories, doing crafts, and playing games. But they also just love to run around alone or with other kids. And I believe that they need more time to do that, in school and at home.
Frankly, I am a bit frustrated with the amount of homework assigned to kindergartners. Every time I have to call my daughter over from playing to complete an assignment, I feel like tearing up the packet and writing a note that homework under age 8 is against our religion.
Because all work and no play makes us all go a little crazy.
Would you ever consider a "play-based" school? Or would you be concerned your child would fall behind academically? Do you consider organized games and crafts to be play? Or is it only play if adults stay out of the way? Do you talk about play in terms of its benefits? Or do you believe in play for the sake of fun?