In Defense of Play
What a difference 3 decades makes. As a child in the 80’s, I was afforded freedom that is hard to create for children today. The cliche idea of walking in the house after school to dump my bag and grab a snack, only to go right back out, knowing I wouldn't return until the sun set and dinner was on the table, was my life. Looking back, those few precious hours each afternoon feel like the entirety of my childhood; pedaling up and down State Street and eventually Walker Rd., dropping my bike at stream crossings to get down near the water just to see what’s what, and to come home feeling as if I’d explored places for the first time. The cast of characters changed every afternoon and it would have an effect on the directions we went. I was a leader, I was a follower, I was resentful, I felt bliss. All in the space from 3pm until 6ish, depending on the season.
All these years later, as a parent, I see my children coming up in a different world. The freedoms that I enjoyed, because the world was so different, are harder to allow. Information is everywhere; whether you want your children to be plugged in enough to upload it or not, information is viral. And while that romanticized stream bed from my childhood and those afternoons spent negotiating my life’s path with my neighborhood cronies may have had their own challenges, they are nothing like the challenges facing today’s children.
In today’s world, instead of finding those freedoms that I found after school, my children have had the chance to experience them during the school day. And while I do not believe that the play at Lakeside that the kindergartners experience everyday is truly unstructured, it is the moment to moment allowance of the children to drive the experience that makes it so valuable to their development as learners.
The amount of development that each of my children experienced during their pre-k and kindergarten years is difficult to quantify in the expected ways. But in hindsight, as my youngest is into his first grade year, it was this non-traditional approach to those years that has allowed them to check all the boxes as traditional learners. It was the ability to take the perspective of others, learned through countless games, negotiations, disappointments and resolutions in the play yard and surrounding acreage at Lakeside, that has helped them to be selfless as students. It is the richness of their imaginations, turning crumbling stream beds into mountains and fallen old trees into the familial royalty of the forest, that has helped them to find creative solutions to the academic problems they will face everyday for years to come. And it is the common ground they have reached in building fires, overcoming waste deep snow on morning hikes and gleefully splashing in the spring run off that has helped them build classroom community that will make teachers shake their heads at how lucky they are to have these children as students.
As is always the case, so much play during the hours my children have been at school comes at the sacrifice of other endeavors expected of kindergartners. I will admit that as my kids each entered their last year of kindergarten, I too questioned whether or not all of this play was going to help them when the academic aspects of 1st grade were upon them. Yet, it was all of this play that has catapulted them into their love of all things academic and all new learning. Because through their play they built their love of learning and for that I am thankful.