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Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

PLAY. Because Learning Should Be Fun!

kids play

It’s testing time again in public schools!

Wooohooooo! Ah yes… Number 2 pencils and bubble-in responses, test taking anxiety and the all encompassing fear that even with all the impressive and meaningful gains your students have made through the year so far they might not do as well as you’d wish. Oh, and your evaluations and merit-based pay increases are on the line to boot!  Oh standardized testing how I love you so!

As educators we are bound to standards and assessments and evaluations that can often blur and transform why we decide to work with youth.  I am a firm believer that learning should be engaging, meaningful, and that all people can live harmoniously and learn from and with one another through the joy of play.

Play is the great equalizer.

When we play, we don’t see age, color, or gender per se, we are immersed in the moment, and in those moments lie rich teaching and learning opportunities for all involved.  Understanding and utilizing the experiential learning cycle enriches these learning opportunities through reflection and application of  “aha moments” discovered through play, to other areas of the play participant’s lives.  This is where the power of this type of learning resides.  Play by itself is a beautiful thing, but when enriched through intentional reflection, players become emotionally engaged in the lessons learned and with the people with whom they’ve learned and played with.

I feel that play, throughout the lifespan, but particularly in childhood enables the play participants to explore many skills and concepts in a different and safe (play) environment that enables the player to then draw upon the concepts and skills learned through play when situations or life experiences occur that parallel those learned through play.  Some of these “lessons” are then connected consciously, while some of them just become part of the fabric of who we are, or who we have become based on our experiences.

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. – Plato

I also feel that, given the recent advances in neuroscience and the discovery and proof of neuroplasticity of the brain, not only during brain development, but throughout the lifespan, that play holds a significant value in the development of healthy synapses, and that we can continue to keep our brains “young” through play.

So, play also serves the purposes of helping people to nurture and develop healthy brain activity through learning about their physical and social worlds by engaging in interesting and meaningful play experiences with others and within different environments.  Movement and interaction in play, as in all experiences, can result in the creation of new neural pathways, which can lead to consequent changes in thought, values, and behavior.

Play engages children because it is fun, self-directed and self-initiated.

And play enriches and links to learning in many ways.  During the early stages of play, children learn about object permanence through a good game of “peek a boo”, or the relationships of cause and effect, such as when the child pushes a button or turns a crank, an animal pops up from behind the door on a toy, or when I bounce a certain type of rubber ball, it bounces higher than when I drop that big rock on Dad’s foot again (ouch!).

Additionally, children begin to understand, albeit in a very elementary and hands-on way, simple physics concepts.

As children grow and move into the next stages of development and become aware that they are social beings, they begin playing cooperatively, sharing materials and ideas in their play.  It is during cooperative play that we begin to really hash out many of the interpersonal skills needed for the rest of our lives.  Skills are learned such as: sharing, collaboration, compromise, problem-solving and conflict resolution.  This type of play, (and while the complexity may grow with the child), becomes the foundation for the type of play that they will mostly engage in throughout the rest of their lives.

This is not to say that we discard solitary play all together, merely that we are hardwired as humans to be with and engage with other humans.  The human animal is playful, and the seemingly simple process of play can have positive influence on and with people.  When people are in joyful, playful interactions they are setting aside more serious personal, community, and cultural differences and they are able enjoy the interactions with those whom they are engaged in playing with.  I believe it was Plato that said something along the lines of  “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

I feel that the majority of learning experiences provided for children should be play-based.

I think the extent to which we allow purely self-directed play occur in education should diminish as children develop the cognitive skills to interpret and apply new information and curricula, however I feel that the more we can engage people, children of all ages, in fun and playful learning, the more the learner will find it enjoyable, meaningful, and therefore demonstrate better retention because they will be more able to develop and own a love of learning.

So, as we gear up for this time of THE STANDARDIZED TESTs, please be sure to take some time to nurture and educate kids’ (and teachers’!) souls by connecting with people through PLAY.  Give yourself that gift and PLAY!

For breakfast this morning, as I sipped the aromatic French Roast that helps jumpstart my mornings, I played with my food; arranging the bits and pieces of my organic multi-grain English muffin with peanut butter and blueberry jam around to make hairstyles and facial hair on the on the funny-face plate that I borrowed from my son, and began my day with a smile.  PLAY ON!

Author Profile: @justinmcglamery

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