On Work and Play
We tend to separate work and play. We see work as something that is not necessarily pleasant but must be done and play as something to do when work is done. School reflects this. In Kindergarten, we do our work and when all is done, then the students get play time. Those who haven’t finished their work do that during play time. Many Kindergarten classes don’t have a play time at all; there is too much work to get done.
In the garden the other day, I was sitting in the garden pulling weeds. I was reminded of playing in the dirt as a child making mud pies and other recipes. I actually had a book my sister had given me titled “How to Make Mudpies and Other Recipes.” I loved that book and often used it in play. Well, I no longer play in the garden, but I do work. And is there much difference?
I can justify the work: the weeds need to be pulled, I am getting the garden in shape and besides, I need the exercise. So it is work: something that needs to be done. However, it resembles the play of my childhood. I am doing something I enjoy, by my own volition. I derive pleasure and gain knowledge from doing it. So it is workplay, the best type of activity, I would say.
So too, did my kindergartners play. At playtime, they chose the activity, it was something from which they derived pleasure, but it was also an activity from which they drew many lessons. And thus it is important that they do it. We call it play, we let them do it only when their work is done, cancel it when time is limited , but it is so important. There are those, usually boys, who choose Lego each time. They are learning about how shapes fit together, they learn to plan and create, they learn social skills as they negotiate with their neighbor for the piece they need, and they derive great pride from their creations. Others choose Play-doh, learning about cause and effect, negotiation again, and cooperation.
The “box”, a simple box filled with paper scraps and other left-overs from class projects, was a big hit last year. Students showed great creativity making crowns, puppets, books, and cards. Then there are the block builders, the computer kids, the math manipulators…all are choosing an activity of their own volition, learning science and math concepts and learning to cooperate with other children besides. They are learning language, engaging in discussion, a common core standard. They also learn to clean up after themselves, an essential life skill.
We call this play! And we limit it to 20 minutes a day. It used to be that play was most of the Kindergarten day, as nursery school is today. No longer. We spend the rest of the day on “serious”, standards-based curriculum. But with creativity and will, we can turn this curriculum into workplay as well. The trick is to choose activities that are designed to teach a given concept but that also engage students, that teach through play, that offer some choice and autonomy, that allow them to work with other students. This is more easily said than done but the new common core standards allow for and encourage more of this than the follow-the-textbook practices of the past years. The new/old project-based learning (PBL), allows the students to be a part of the planning process instead of spoon feeding them, lets them be active participants, and tries to find authentic, engaging themes. Some say this is impossible with young children. But in the past several years, I had my Kindergarten students design and create a city, research and design their own bugs, and research the sugar content in cereal. In all of these lessons, they were engaged, working together, engaging in discussion, in short, engaged in play.
I hope then, that teachers everywhere will allow for more workplay in their classrooms, all while following the standards and making sure their students are well-prepared for the world at large.
Don't just look, see.
Don' t just hear, listen.
Don't just talk, say.
Don't just smile laugh.
Don't just exist, live.
Don' t justt be a nobody, be a somebody.
Don't just be a spectator, be a participant.
Don't just criticize, appreciate.
Don't just weakly smile, laugh aloud.
Don't just seethe and hate, love with abandon.
Be more of it and more intensely,
Be more balanced and more whole.
Just look, but see,
Just hear, but listen,
Just sniff, but smell,
Just touch, but feel,
Just tear, but weep,
Just eat, but taste,
Just copy, but create,
Just think, but reflect,
Just be, but be someone.
The first of the two is not enough,
The second must complement the first
Or else the self will be denied.
It is better to pull than to push.
To want to do is easy,
To do is quite another matter.
Work is invigorating,
Indolence is debilitating.
Not to dare is to sit and stare.
Expectations are both boon and bane.