As the end of the school year approached and I looked out at the plexiglass-framed faces before me, I knew I had to do something to energize the last month of school. I teach a Study Skills class to 4th graders, and I have tried this year to make organization, time management, and planning fun. Sometimes, I admit, it is hard to make executive function skills fun and engaging. I try hard, though. I used videos, art, photography, poetry, movement to keep the girls actively participating. However, as March turned to April, the girls’ exuberance was fading, and I knew I had to come up with a plan. My plan was PLAY!
The students had been cooped up all year: learning behind plexiglass, wearing masks, keeping socially distant from friends. This year has been difficult, and incredibly difficult for children. I’m not sure of what the ramifications will be in the future, but I do know that children have more fear and anxiety now. The only remedy I know for fear and anxiety is collaboration and play. So, in mid-April I gathered my students and told them that for the rest of the school year they would be researching PLAY. Many of them looked at me skeptically. “You mean we are putting on a play?” they asked. I chuckled. “Well you could put on a play, but I mean you are all going think about and tell about why playing is important.” All of a sudden, the room became electric. They buzzed with ideas. I smiled. That’s just what I hoped would happen.
The first thing I did to prepare my students was to create a slideshow about the importance of play. I added videos of children giving their opinions on play as well accounts from experts about how play helps people learn and thrive. I found some great videos of animals playing, which I knew would be of interested to my nine and ten-year-old students. I loved watching their faces as I played the slideshow. I had them hooked. When the slideshow ended, they ran to me with ideas. I told them to think about what they wanted to research about play. It could be making a game, conducting an interview with a play expert, designing fidgets, or anything else they could imagine.
For the last three weeks, the girls have been thoroughly engaged in the process of creating. They set goals, planned, organized materials, worked collaboratively, monitored their own progress and adjusted their plans to complete their projects. I saw their independence and self-confidence blossom. They were play engineers. They were in charge of their learning.
At times, they asked me for assistance, but these requests were mainly in the realm of getting specific materials. Their work was their own. They did not seek me out to generate ideas or resolve problems. I stood in the wings ready to help but found myself having free time to just observe and document their progress.
Sometimes, when my colleagues witness my students at work, they think it is too chaotic. The children are moving and talking constantly. They are building and dismantling, and building again. This is the process of creation. It is messy and noisy and marvelous. It is the true nature of play.
Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens.
It renews our natural sense of optimism
and opens us up to new possibilities.
– Stuart Brown, MD
SOME RESOURCES FOR TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT PLAY: