Heidi and Suzie were friends of mine on Glenmoor Street in the neighborhood. Play was something we did well. We lined up books and played library with slips of paper, stamps, and ink pens. We dressed in bonnets and put cloths over our beach pails and pretended to be Laura Ingalls. We made forts in the bushes and had picnics. The list of opportunities for play was endless especially in the summer time. For me those were some of the good old days. Play happened all day long until your mom called you home because it was getting dark.

Back then, I had no idea how involved educationally play was. Now I am a parent and a teacher and that lesson has become a new one for me. After my daughter was diagnosed with autism, I not only became aware that play simply does not come natural for some, but it also is a very complex activity. I find the topic of play fascinating and mind boggling. The research that supports the power of play is overwhelmingly positive. Play in a nutshell is a child’s work. It is the child’s working on developing social skills, creativity, imagination, problem solving, and more. What is more purposeful than that? So many life skills all wrapped up in play.

Lately, I have felt like I have had to defend playtime in my classroom. In an age where play is a soccer game, a dance recital, or a swim meet, play has been washed of is pure free form fun. In an age where play is often running around reenacting Power Rangers, Star Wars, My Pretty Ponies, or Hello Kitty , play has lost its originality. In an age where play in some classrooms has been replaced with worksheets, reading groups, extra workpapers, and busywork, play has lost its value. There is certainly a pressure for academic activities and play is not one of them. In my classroom these days, we spend at least 40 minutes of play each day. That includes outside time and inside time. Play is also incorporated in our daily lessons. After play, I see every time that the kids are more focused on teacher directed activities.

Today, I am discouraged at how little kids are playing. All that is needed is a chance and maybe little bit of coaching. Yet, even in the delayed child like my daughter, there is hope! Some children, when given the chance, value their play time and are showing confidence in many skills just by playing.
Here is an example of something that happened with some young four and five years olds at my school this past early June.
Three or four children came over and said “Come to our restaurant.”
Another teacher and I walked over to a wooden gazebo where they had picked several types of grasses, weeds, dandelions, and clover. They had sorted them out and took our orders. They told us how to make a “taco” out of woodchips and plants. What creativity! What cooperation!

My daughter had seen a story on DVD called the Pigs Wedding. It is a rather silly out of print story about some pigs named Curly Tail and Porker who get married. They invite pigs and paint clothes on themselves. A rainstorm comes and washed the clothes away. After picking Clara up from school one day, Clara suggested that we wash Porker. I hadn’t a clue what she meant. But she later explained that I should draw Curly Tail and Porker on the driveway with sidewalk chalk. Then she would wash them off with drippy wet sponges. That is how she pretended to be in the story. She created a  very original play scheme demonstrating problem solving, invention, and sequence.

More on play later. In the meantime, consider the value of play. It’s worth more to a child’s development than many think.

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