Even though I believe in the power of play, when I see it in action, I wonder how much healthier students would be if we built it into the classroom. Not woven into an academic pursuit, but purposely placed to support the social-emotional development of children.
My classroom ended 2018 with board game time, honored in the way we honor any part of our academic day. Many games were brought from home. Children had a choice as to who to play with and what to play. If they didn’t want to play, they could choose to write or draw or read or take a break.
Watching them work together was remarkable. The child who has trouble getting along did and was happy. The quiet child participated taking on all roles required by the game. Children played outside of their friend groups.
The occasional squabble was worked out without adult intervention. Turns were taken. Children moved seamlessly from game to game, person to person.
And when it was done with all pieces picked up and put away, one student said, “We learned absolutely nothing today.”
To which I responded, “Did you learn about each other?”
“Oh, yeah!’ he said with a big smile. “We learned who was flexible and who was not.”
Knowing the limits of the people we interact with is essential. Yet these students, who have been together in a classroom for four months, did not know this about each other. That is shocking.
My students showed me they understood how to play. They did not have to be taught how to negotiate, how to take turns, how to listen. They got that. But in the process of all of that play, they did learn subtle moves to get out of tense moments. That social-emotional how-to is built in to play.
Classtime has socialization build into it with collaborative projects and partnership work, but little cooperative time is spent working outside academic confines, AKA play.
How much of our success in life, be it academic or work-related, requires an understanding of the person beyond the task?
Would more play increase student flexibility and understanding of each other?
If we play with the people we work with, how much better might our work be?
What might we learn about ourselves?
What if, we just took the time to play?