Wednesday, August 18, 2010

P is for Play!

I taught 5 years of special education before I came to kindergarten. When I decided to change, I stayed in the same school just moved rooms. Truthfully, I didn't really have any idea that kindergarten was so very different from 1982 when I was in K. I remember opening the door and seeing a very empty room- tables, desks, and chairs... but it certainly looked a lot different then I imagined! I dove in and I was happy to be teaching kindergarten and when they asked (usually the first week) "when do we play", I told them that we don't have time to play in kindergarten. My students made great progress through that stormy year (2 major hurricanes!). I heard from other kindergarten teachers about how we just didn't have time for housekeeping and dress up, that we had too much academics to cover, too many state and district mandates, too much curriculum to get through. And we didn't have time.. and I didn't have the supplies anyway and my kids were happy and thriving. But, over the next few years I began to realize that even if I didn't set up the environment for play, the kids still did! Math cubes turned into blocks and robots and cars, books and books buddies (stuffed animals) were mothered and played students and occasionally sat in "time out". Play Doh for building letters became pancakes and birthday cake. I would remind them the "job" they had to do at each center and discouraged the play. Still, my students thrived and seemed happy. I began to notice that I had more behavior issues then in the past. A lot of squabbles over not sharing, turn taking, waiting patiently. I had to do a lot more role playing and teaching about how to solve problems. As a kindergarten teacher I was used to seeing some of this, but it really seemed to me to be on the rise. Then I started reading about executive function in children. I started reading about how play is so important and that children are not getting as many opportunities to just play. I read a bunch of books by Vivian Paley and read a lot of articles about play. I knew that I had to make a few changes. First, I started asking my students to narrate stories, that I wrote down and we acted out. This activity took 10 minutes but I was told that it was the best part of the day by many students. Then I got the legos and the flannel board out to use in a rotation in centers. My oh my.. they were thrilled to have everyday access to these activities (they were previously used only in special circumstances). I have a 3 year old and the first words out her her mouth in the morning are usually, "Let's pretend...." I want my daughter to have opportunities to play and pretend and I want it for my students too. I haven't and can't and won't cut back on any of the rigorous academic requirements of kindergarten, but I have made some time for play. Now, when students ask me when it is time to play I can answer that we will be playing very soon! I love this article- 10 Reasons Play Can Make You Happy Healthy and More Productive.

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