Play

Posted: May 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

When asked to reflect on play and its role in my life I initially thought this would be an easy exercise. Of course I play! There’s lots of play in my life!

Specific questions regarding play however proved more of a challenge to answer than I would have originally expected. “What does play look like for you?” After much more thought than I would have predicted necessary I come up with this rather academic, sterile definition: “play is movement or action that is spontaneous and enjoyable”. A few days later, as I write these words, I already disagree with my own definition. Does play necessarily have to be spontaneous? Are planning, rules and boundaries not required for most play?

“What do I do for play?” Easy…or is it? Again I find myself digging way too hard in my life to find examples of what I do for play. Finally I come up with travel, photography, and riding my bike. These are the activities I look forward to, the activities I enjoy the most and aim to practice as often as possible. But is it play? The personal value of play for me? “A change from the routine of grown up stuff like work and meeting responsibilities”. This is one answer I can still stand by.

Next, what do I know about the value of play-based learning theoretically? Admittedly, very little. Generally speaking my many years in the classroom have taught me that play can be used to draw interest, or rejuvenate enthusiasm for subject matter. In my Senior High Social Studies classroom a regular review tool I use is a modified version on tic-tac-to, that I call tic-tac-know. Students never seem to tire of this game I use to review material, even the older students ask to play on an almost daily basis. It certainly makes the curriculum more palatable for the students. And it reinforces the usefulness and importance of play in the classroom.

In the reading I selected, Games Children Play, author Maxwell makes a few interesting points/statements. Namely that he learned 95% of the subject matter before he entered school, that games and intellect are contagious, and that while children do require teachers, they “learn best in a balance between dependence on and independence from adults”.

While I can agree that games and intellect are contagious and that students require a balance between dependence and independence from adults, the first statement that 95% of subject matter is learned before entering school is harder to endorse in my heavily content driven Social Studies 11 curriculum. This however does not deter from the importance of play in the classroom and in learning activities. The challenge I plan to address is how to meet the needs of the curriculum while devising activities that include play. How can students learn what they will need to meet with success by means of play?  While the play-centered activities in my classes are successful, they are mainly organized and planned by me.

The challenge is now to enable a more student centered approach to game planning. How can I give them the “independence from adults” Maxwell argues is important for the balance required for best learning?

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