Alfie Kohn wrote an article about play that puts its finger on something that has started to bother me lately.
On the whole, I approve of the recent directions in early childhood education. I like that play-based learning is valued and getting a higher profile. I like having an EYLF. I like that all early childhood educators are recognised as educators. I like a more highly trained workforce, with better pay and working conditions. I like the push to be better at describing and communicating the value of what we do with children.
But I have this niggling doubt that all this talk of identifying the learning, and documentation, and planning what the child will do next, and intentional teaching poses a danger. What if this actually has the effect of downgrading the value of play? What if it makes us think that only play that is leading somewhere, only play that is guided, only play with demonstrable learning outcomes that fit the parameters of some document, only play that has been subjected to adult intention is valuable?
Play is intrinsically good.
Play is intrinsically good for children.
Time that is for just playing is good time.
Kohn points out that play and work do not exhaust the options. Learning can be something that is neither play nor work.
Playful learning can be fun. Playful learning can allow freedom. It can allow children to construct their own understandings as active learners. It can engage students. But if someone else has set the goals, and monitors whether you are learning the things they want you to learn, it is no longer just playing.
I could employ a builder to make something to my design and specifications. But if I want a work of art, I have to let the artist create it.
When I offer playful learning opportunities, the child is like the builder. When I let the child just play, the child is the artist.
I want my program to have both playful learning and just playing.
I want to have the courage to let children play just because.