The power of play

playflickrforestfortrees.jpg   I’m reaching the point in the school year where I’ve been driving hard and am getting pretty worn out, as I’m sure a lot of people are, even though I love what I’m doing.

So I was really interested to run across this post at Fischbowl regarding the role of play in education.   Karl Fisch highlights a post by his school district’s CIO, Dan Maas, who beautifully illustrates how the love of something is often born from having time to “play” at it early on.

In our earnestness this time of year, it’s easy to get so focused on goals that we forget the power and value of play for our students or for ourselves, for that matter. 

ForestForTrees, who created the photo from above, reminds us of the definition of play in his photo comments:

“Play consists of…
* “Activities not consciously performed for the sake of any result beyond themselves” (Dewey)
* “Instinctive practice, without serious intent, of activities which will later be essential to life” (Groos).
Source: Definitions of Play and Pretense

But in his comments on Karl’s post, Barry Bachenheimer notices how often we call things we do in school “work.”

“‘Do your work’, ‘Home work’, ‘Turn in your work.’ Learning is seen as a task and not as an enjoyable activity.”

I think therein lies a real challenge for us with students.  How can we reengage that sense of play?

The other challenge this thread of commentary raises for me is  “our work” as educators.  Do we ever think of it as play?  Do we still enjoy learning, tinkering around with things, or figuring things out?   Aren’t we more inspired and enthusiastic when we can do that?

It’s a special challenge this time of year to remember to let ourselves play, to slow down and enjoy a moment, to do something for the sheer enjoyment of it, whether at “work” or elsewhere.  But we all need to take time out to “sharpen the saw” as Stephen Covey puts it, and bring the energy we gain from our play back into our classrooms and schools.

I’ve been too tired to post much lately but I noticed when I was reading about play how much it energized me.  Perhaps even the mere notion of play can relax us?  Food for thought….

2 thoughts on “The power of play

  1. I certainly feel that play and fun are undervalued assets in a classroom. However, I believe that this attitude is determined primarily by the teacher. How can students be expected to get excited and interested about activities in the classroom when the teacher shows no passion or sometimes even explicit boredom about the subject. The teacher is the primary presenter of information about the subject so that presentation greatly affects the student’s opinion of the subject. Teachers need to be salesmen of their classes. They need to pass of as much as possible as fun so students will want to learn it, not simple learn it for a high grade. I think that play has been a crucial factor in the success of the physics department at Westlake. Bobby Dan Harper’s childlike glee when lecturing and doing experiments sends the message to students that this is fun and enjoyable material. At the very least it helps to keep kids awake during class and additionally I think it drastically improves student interest. I know kids who go home and google theories that Harper mentions because they see his excitement about them. I have yet to hear of behavior like this in any other class. The math department is particularly deficient in play in my experience and the difference in students attitude’s towards the subjects is clearly visible. How many Westlake graduates plan on being math majors and how many intend to major in physics? Is one inherently more interesting? I do not think so. I know it must be tough to play with information that teachers have been relaying for decades but it is vital to spark that curiosity and create interest.

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