I so enjoyed my adventure to Miami in March to learn from the experts and teachers at NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Conference with my colleague, Nancy Burdic, Director of the Douglas County School District Preschool Program. We loved it.
To be crystal clear, I have suffered a bit from brain overload as a FULL myriad of golden nuggets have become a bit overwhelming, as their presence has stifled blog action; however, the universe has sent a spring snow storm, motivating me to polish one for you this morning. After days of slow digestion, I will indulge you with one, completely intending to write about more later.
Conceptual themes. Play. Research. Child Centered. Those are the key element drivers of this blog posting today.
One must know and adopt the philosophy and truth that
The child’s research is PLAY
We must not fall into the illusion that a playful, exploratory and spontaneous environment for children is a waste of our time or even more so a waste of the child’s time. How do we get to this place
Honestly, daily, I hear statements often as I visit remarkable teachers. Dedicated teachers who have lived within the paradigm of No Child Left Behind fueled by rigorous mandated assessment. (I was have lived in this place as well.)
- I don’t have time for children to play.
- If my kids do not know X or show the X skill, I am failing them and I will be judged by the next primary teacher.
- Students who are not in the skill box that is proclaimed must be pulled out of the classroom for intervention and then be sent back into the classroom for more intervention…(double dipped).
- Play is not purposeful and does not drive learning.
- If my administrator comes in and sees my students playing, it will not be acceptable.
- With state mandated testing, I cannot have “this” sort of classroom.
(I realize that literacy acquisition is of utmost importance. The window of sound acquisition ranges from preschool to 2nd grade. If students do not acquire reading/writing/math skill by this time, and during this umbrella of growth, teachers must respond appropriately and with carefully targeted diligence. Sound instruction for students is not something that I am opposed to; however, is it all they deserve?)
A question: Are these statements obstacles or challenges?
If we do not let children play (which is richly researched and developmentally appropriate) forcing continual academics on them (as the WHOLE of the school experience), young children will check out, dislike school, and lose that beautiful innate curiosity that is the mother of learning; moreover, there is a danger that they will they will lose confidence as they adopt the “idea” that they are not good enough for school. When exploration and play are taken away, all learning is contrived and only accessed by those children who can play the “school” game well. The children are lost and defeated. What about the girl who will never be the most sound reader and writer but who IS the most amazing thinker, builder and artist? Should she have time to assert her power within a community of diverse learners?
Yes, balance is key. To me, a classroom which is seasoned with rich materials leads to skill acquisition naturally. With teacher artistry, not concise, lock step content delivery, students naturally happen upon concepts which will move skill practice into rich spaces of engagement and buy in. For example, the boy who has an hour to explore and play in an area full of found objects which were planned to POSSIBLY lead to the discovery of force and motion (cardboard boxes, tubes, marbles, blocks–just to name a few), he conceptually starts to understand higher level concepts such as action/reaction, part/ whole, systems, and more. Is the teacher a part of this? OF COURSE. Conversation during the play stimulates understanding and wonder. This boy will be much more engaged to give writing a try with these rich experiences in his schema and short term memory. His engagement and present adoption of “school” become the fertile ground for skill practice and growth.
If we, as the maestros of our precious orchestras of engaged, exploring and playful children, offer opportunities with rich and varied materials, the learning of these high level concepts and the acquisition of sound skills (developmentally appropriate and honoring the child where they are) will happens naturally and without force.
The child deserves a voice.
The child deserves to play.
The child deserves to co- construct an environment which is engaging and worthwhile.
Environments and pedagogical plans and decisions which are driven by the questions of the child result in microcosms of intriguing, authentic and rich learning. Yes, skill naturally seeps into these spaces as the teacher, who is continually monitoring, assessing and guiding capitalizes on the strengths and curiosities of each learner. Often, basic skill even moves beyond projections for the particular average age/grade.
Is this natural and right?
Will students acquire more than basic skill?