Just playing

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.

Thanks to Teacher Tom and Irresistible Ideas for Play Based learning for the link.

2 responses to “Just playing”

  1. @ko says :

    I meant to reply to this post when you first published it but kept forgetting 🙂

    I agree with your sentiments and your fears about the role of play. play is fundamental to learning and is sacred. We are however experiencing downward pressure from the compulsory school sector to teach the ‘vital skills’ of numeracy and literacy. That’s the influence of neoliberalism on education. There is also considerable pressure from parents who are buying into the discourse of competitiveness and the need to ‘succeed’ in a dog-eat-dog world. And as you say it’s about adults defining acceptable values, what childhood is, what constitutes learning, and how children learn. The image of the child is an ever-shifting perspective – liberation is the one I’ve settled on 🙂

    But it’s also teachers who struggle to find their place in the process of learning; who fail to recognise that direct teaching is interfering and controlling; who simply have yet to get a grasp of theory that can guide our practice. Here in Aotearoa our curriculum is intentionally very descriptive to allow for local communities to create curriculum that reflects the their context and diversity. But many teachers fail to understand the socio-cultural theories that underpin it and return to traditional practices – here that means free-play (brilliant!), but the role of the teacher is not defined (constructivism doesn’t really even mention teaching) and often results in teachers either too hands-off or boots-an-all teaching. I’ve been exploring the learning principles of Emmi Pikler as a bridge between free-play and teaching through play in a way that respects the child’s right to initiate and lead play. Come have a nosy sometime.

    Your blog stands out from the crowd of activity obsessive sites – good for you.


  2. Susan Pederson says :

    I realize this was a post from over a year ago, but I just read it and wanted to respond. Play is getting lost here in the United States. With so many children in daycare from just about the time they’re born, these institutions have taken on the role of “schools” and academia has been pushed down to very early ages. Workbooks, flashcards and coloring pages have taken the place of blocks, puzzles, dramatic play props, manipulatives, etc. on the shelves in the “classroom”. Oh, they might still have “free time” to play, but the emphasis is on academics. Parents will choose academic programs over play programs because they feel like that “early start” will give their child or children the edge when they enter the kindergarten classroom at the age of 5. How sad is that? I just sent an email to a parent of one of the children in my play-based family childcare program emphasizing the maturational development needed in order for her 4-year old son to write his name. She’s afraid he’ll be behind when he starts school. I illustrated all the things he “plays” every day at my house that are developmental prerequisites to writing his name. She still didn’t “get it”. She asked if I would work with him here at my house and she would work with him at home 😦

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