Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Is It Play? What is Play??

Dan Hodgins, a good friend and colleague posted a great question over on his Invitations to Learning Facebook page today. The question simply stated was, If we plan for it, is it Play??? I invite you to visit the page and get in on that discussion.

Dan is one of my favorite ECE people, not because we agree on everything, but because we don't always. We also tend to make each other think.   After answering his question today and some dialogue with a few other ECE professionals, I have decided to share a few thoughts that were originally published in the Child Central Station Provider's Play Day Book. (This isn't a book you can order, it is just a collection of handouts that changes every year and is given to each attendee of the Play Day).

So here is section 1. During Play Day, we took a lot of time to discuss this in small groups.

Why Choose Play? A Journey to Play

We are living in a time where “play” is almost a 4-letter word. Some advocates have indicated their concern in regard to the possible extinction of childhood, the extinction of play. Why is this? The research continues to support play as the best way for young children to learn, and yet….. practices do not always match our words or intent. The value of play although repeatedly proven, has been diminished. People continually challenge and question the validity play has an children are given fewer and fewer opportunities to play. Why do we have such a hard time allowing and trusting children to learn through play? Why do we continue to add things and call it play when really it is not?

Before we go too far, let’s take some time and reflect…… on PLAY… spend a few minutes jotting down some thoughts and ideas to the following prompts….. Keep in mind there are no right or wrong answers. This is purely for self reflection, contemplation, and group discussion.

What is play? How would you define it?

It can be hard to define play, perhaps think of some tenants or characteristics of play. What makes play, play?

And perhaps… What makes something NOT be play?

Is play something definite? or is there a continuum of play?

What about playful learning? What does playful learning look like?

Would you describe your program as a play based program? Why or why not?

What do you see as your biggest challenge in regard to play?

Defining Play.

I think part of the reason that we have such a difficult time with the term play is that it means so many different things to different people. Is play the opposite of work? Can play and work co-exist? Is learning play? Can play and learning co-exist? Are they one in the same? Does ALL play have purpose? Play has value, and the research shows time and time again that play is important and the best way for children to learn. I do think that some practitioners and systems have also taken advantage of this research and have perverted play, trying to sell things off as being play that truly are not.

So, for a moment… Let’s get on the same page. Let’s look at how we define play.

Dictionary.com defines play “To exercise or employ oneself in diversion, amusement, or recreation” or “to do something in sport that is not to be taken seriously” I wonder, a diversion from what? and really? Are you serious? not to be taken seriously? No wonder why play is on the extinction list… the dictionary does not give play any justice….. Play is not a diversion, play needs to be taken seriously…. and fortunately for us, there are researchers who have spent a lot of time looking at a better definition and proving time and time again that play is important, that play has value, and we need to start paying more attention and embracing the benefits of play.

Dr Peter Gray says that play has 5 main characteristics:

(1) Play is self-chosen and self-directed

(2) Play is activity in which means are more valued than ends

(3) Play has structure, or rules, which are not dictated by physical necessity but emanate from the minds of the players

(4) Play is imaginative, non-literal, mentally removed in some way from “real” or “serious” life

and (5) Play involves an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind.

(Psychology Today, November 19, 2008).

So, according to this… anytime YOU the teacher determine the activity or come up with the project or plan… It is not truly play. Again… Play needs to be self chosen and self directed. To get the full benefits, the child needs to drive their own explorations and learning. Play is a process! We need to trust that process and we need to remember and to trust that young children are capable!

Dr Peter Gray also indicated that play is not black and white, that there is a continuum of play. Meaning that activities and pieces of our lives can be partially play and partially not at the same time.

How do you feel about play? Does this set of criteria work for you???

What do others have to say about play?

Teacher Tom, (Tom Hobson) describes play as one of his students proclaimed, Play is…. “What I do when no one tells me what to do.”

“Play is the highest form of research” -Albert Einstein

“Play is the answer to how anything new comes about” - Jean Piaget

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Play is often talked about like it is a relief from serious learning, but for children play is serious learning” - Fred Rogers

“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” - Joseph Chilton Pierce

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than you can in a year of conversation” - Plato

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing” George Bernard Shaw

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul” -Friedrich Froebel

“Play is not frivolous, It is not a luxury. It is not something to fit in after completing all of the important stuff. Play is the important stuff. Play is a drive, a need, a brain building must do.” Jeff A Johnson & Denita Dinger

“Play is a signal that nature’s wisdom is being enacted” Jane Goodall

“Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity of humor” Dr Stuart Brown

More questions to ponder…...

So… What exactly is play? Can anyone besides the player really determine if it is true play?

How can we support children and encourage more opportunities for play?

Why is there a dichotomy between play and academics? If play is the best way to learn isn’t play academic? 

This is a question I deal with all of the time, and I think the biggest difference between what many folks define as a play based program and an academic based program boils down to one characteristic of play. In a true play based program children have a lot of power and control over their time, explorations and environment, they as the players have the opportunity to choose and design their own learning. The more child-centered a program is and the more opportunities children have to drive their own explorations, the truer it is to play. Where things start to get muddy is when adults start to attempt to control the learning by providing “fun”, “cute” activities for the children to meet an adult goal or drive. Remember, that just because something is fun does not mean that it is play! (on a side note, this is why the term playful learning drives me nuts… All play is learning, but when an adult has their own agenda and is pushing academics or ideas it is no longer play and in many cases the children do not learn the subject matter as it is not real or relevant to them.)

Originally published by Amy Ahola DBA Central Station 2016 (c) All Rights Reserved.

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