Sunday, September 25, 2011

Just Play?

About 20 years ago Robert Fulgham  became a best-selling author with the release of his inspirational book  All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  One couldn’t doubt his sincerity as he recalled the lessons he learned about fairness, sharing and order: lessons he attributed to time spent in the sandpile, at play. 

Soon after that things began to change in America’s kindergartens. 

With school boards and administrators clamoring for a “jump start” to higher test scores in later grades there was a great shift in the schedule towards academics and away from time spent “just playing.” 

Many child development experts will tell you the same thing that Mr. Fulgham did in his simple way: it was never “just play.”  Today’s kindergarteners may be better prepared, at their age, to recite the life cycle of the butterfly, including the use of the word “chrysalis.” (I’ve witnessed this!)  In other words, they may be taught more. 

They may, however, be learning less than kindergarteners in the past.  Today’s kindergarteners may lack abilities to “self-regulate” (which is essential for sitting, focusing and enjoying a book) and be challenged in their use of executive functions of the brain (the kind that keep us from making impulsive choices) that are all developed in play

Those of us who work in early childhood know that it has even been a challenge to maintain “play based” preschools.

15 years ago I attended an open house at my daughter’s preschool.  As the teacher was describing all of the things that children learn at the various centers in the classroom while at play I noticed one father, in suit and tie, reading notes from his briefcase, only occasionally looking up. (A few years later he’d be tapping at his Blackberry.)

After the teacher was finished with her presentation she asked if there were any questions.  That father was the first to raise his hand and ask, "We’ve heard all about all of the play that goes on here.  How much time do you spend at this preschool just playing and how much time do you spend getting these children ready for school?” 

The teacher, a veteran professional, silenced the man by confidently stating, “We do play here in preschool.  We play because play is the context where children develop and express abilities across all domains of development - physical, cognitive and social.”

Then she added, matter-of-factly, “That is why we play.”

And, because of this sort of understanding and advocacy, my daughter’s hours at preschool were filled with play. 

I dropped my daughter off at college last month.  On the drive home I had enough time to think about how thankful I am that everything she really needed to know……she was allowed to learn in preschool. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Words On Play

Anyone familiar with my music and books…..or my family concerts ….or my conference sessions knows that my interest has always been in play.  I’ve tried, over the years,  to create music that inspires active play and create books that become playful read-and-sing-alongs between adults and children.  And in my professional workshops I have always made it a point to share my excitement about what children are learning while playing and how, if we watch that play,  we can learn so much about the children we know and love. 

I’ve come to understand that play is an activity that is simple, yet profound.  When playing, children learn lessons that are broader than any lessons that adults might dream up to teach them.  When adults study a child’s play, if they are reflective, they end up learning not only about the child, but something about themselves as well.

I’m planning, when I post on to this blog in the coming weeks, to explore aspects of play that I don’t have time to share in my conference sessions.  I’ve collected more than twenty years of stories, anecdotes and thoughts…..all about play.  I’m excited to put them in order and make them public.

I’m hoping that early childhood teachers, children’s librarians and parents will find my words on play thought provoking.  And I am hoping that they might find an occasional piece worth sharing with others.