Have you ever heard the phrase, “just playing?” I have. Many times. Often times I know it isn’t meant in a bad way at all. For example, “Oh the kids are just playing right now.”
I get that it is likely meant to explain what they are doing – but still, my teacher self cringes at the use of the term JUST when next to the word PLAYING.
Why do I cringe?
Because kids are never just playing.
They are learning.
Learning through play is an amazing thing and something that is not accepted everywhere, particularly in a school setting.
Why is it that when kids walk through the doors of kindergarten the play is supposed to be only at recess?
When did play become a 4 letter word? (THAT kind of 4 letter word -the kind I won’t type here on this site!)
I have to say that I am beyond blessed to teach in a school and district that supports the idea of learning through play. My kindergarteners play EVERY DAY in the classroom and I am so thankful that this is not only allowed, but encouraged.
So, why am I defending play if I am allowed to incorporate it in my teaching?
Well, just because my kindergarteners can play does not mean I am not aware that isn’t the case elsewhere.
For all of my teacher friends who aren’t allowed to have play in their classroom, and for all of the 5 and 6 year olds (and even older, as I think 1st graders should play too) who are being pushed beyond their age – this needs to be talked about.
Play as a “4 Letter Word”
I have heard MANY reasons as to why kids aren’t allowed to play. Here are a few that I have read, heard, or had directly spoken to me at various trainings or interactions. While often we assume that it is mainly the “law makers” causing this issue- unfortunately some of these sayings have come from teachers’ mouths too. However, I do understand it is likely because of the pressure being put on them, unfortunately.
- We can’t play and meet common core.
- They need to learn how to do school.
- They won’t be ready for 1st grade by just playing
- We can’t pass assessments if we are playing
- We don’t have time to play
- I will be in trouble if I let the kids play (the saddest one yet!)
Learning Through Play
Well, if kids aren’t just playing, then what are they doing while they play? Here are just some of the many things children learn through play:
- Decision making
- Social emotional skills
- Language development
- Higher level thinking skills
- Communication skills
- Listening skills
- Reading Skills
- Math Skills
I especially like to point out social emotional skills. We often hear complaints of poor social skills in children and young adults, but think about how that may be different if they had been given time to intentionally learn those things at a young age through authentic play?
Problem solving skills are learned through the solving of actual problems in social situations with peers. We can certainly learn some about them through read alouds and activities, but you can’t beat the real thing! A worksheet or sorting activity about decision making isn’t the same as doing it yourself.
Let’s Look at the “Play Problems” Again
Going back to the reasons that play is a “four letter word” – let’s look a little closer and examine the other side of opinions!
- We can’t play and meet common core. – Well, I have been doing it and I am by no means Wonder Teacher, so I do know it is possible! Especially when you look at the speaking and listening components of Common Core. Also, it depends on if you are having your students engaged in intentional play with intentional materials. Note: This doesn’t mean an educational game that you require them to play – I am talking about authentic free play, where the teacher has set up the environment but the student is given the choice.
- They need to learn how to do school. Really? At five? Pretty soon babies will be born and immediately we will be saying we need to get them ready for school and buying them desks. I exaggerate… but honestly, it gets to be a bit much! Kids should be able to be kids. They are still learning!
- They won’t be ready for 1st grade by just playing. Well, my argument here is that actually 1st graders should play too, and also we have already turned Kindergarten into the new first grade in some ways! But in all seriousness, yes, they will be ready. Taking time to play in addition to their lessons isn’t going to hinder them from growing as readers, writers, and much more. In fact, it helps them!
- We can’t pass assessments if we are playing. This. is. SAD. It is sad that people feel they have to teach to the test, and sad that many teachers’ abilities are evaluated on these tests.
- We don’t have time to play. Now, if you teach half day kindergarten I really, truly, understand this. I teach full day and I know that even then it can get busy. However, if we are expected to meet common core in half day as well as full day, shouldn’t we full day-ers be able to have time for intentional play each day? I promise you can still fit in everything else!
- I will be in trouble if I let the kids play (the saddest one yet!) This is something I sadly can’t fix alone and I know this isn’t the teacher’s fault. I can only hope that we teachers and parents keep taking a stand for play and its importance, and that those who make the rules will start to see the light!
A Plea for Play
I think I am right (or I really hope) when I say that most teachers of young children really do wish they could play. I think many teachers know the importance of play, and sadly they just aren’t allowed to without consequences that affect their job.
So it is not those teachers or individuals that this post is geared for – other than to back you up and encourage you to keep on keeping on, and maybe things will change!
This post is mainly a plea for people making the rules or people that honestly think kids have no business playing in school. For people that think playing is “just” playing and has no significant learning outcomes for children.
Think of adults who are inventors and constantly building success – do you think inventions don’t come about through play and exploration? One of my favorite quotes about play is by Carl Jung – “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”
Children want and need to play. We are robbing them of this in many ways. I hope that things change, and I am always hopeful when I hear of other teachers and schools who are bringing back play.
I am curious – can you play in your classroom? Is it free play and child directed? I would love to hear from you!
More on Play
For more on the importance of play, check out 10 inspiring quotes about play (you will love these!) and then for some free dramatic play printables and ideas check out our Ice Cream Shop and Restaurant!
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