The Philosophy of Play

I went to my daughters’ preschool orientation tonight. The director stood up in front of the group and began to explain the philosophy of play. They believe that children learn a lot through play. What looks like chaos to an outside observer is actually a master lesson. She explained how painting builds strength in the lower arms and cutting and tweezing build up the finger muscles all in preparation for writing. She talked about how other activities allowed students to play in different textures or practice new skills.

What struck me the most is when she explained why a classroom might be messy when the kids are elsewhere; why they don’t have them clean up after every play session. “It takes a long time before they begin to play,” she says. They need to find their group, get their toys and set them up. Then they need to make their rules. Even when the kids don’t talk, they are making the rules of how they will play together. All of this happens before the playing starts. If it is outside time or trike time, two activities that have to be scheduled to prevent overcrowding, they let the kids leave their stuff set up so they can continue where they left off. Otherwise the poor kids would have to start all over again.

“If we let them just get into it, they like it better and we have fewer behavior issues.” If we just let kids get into it.

As a secondary teacher, I struggle with this idea. I only have but so much time to get an idea across and I have so many things I am supposed to cover. My students also need the time to meet their group, find their stuff and make their rules. Those things didn’t change. I feel that I never have the time to let my students “get into it” before the class ends.  And, because I teach five classes,  we are always having to start over.

But I have witnessed the times when I have somehow overcome that barrier. When working becomes playing. When students think they are doing something so fun they don’t realize they are learning. I used to call it subversive teaching. But now that sounds so…mean. From now on I’m going to call it The Philosophy of Play.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Philosophy of Play

  1. That’s a great term – “philosophy of play.” Connecting students to the fun and joy of learning is powerful in terms of students’ engagement with their work. For some students, play is a flow state. As we think about instructional strategies, we should be ready to differentiate content through multiple processes that let students feel flow. Some need challenge, some need play, and others need the opportunity to do real-world work through entrepreneurship or servcie-learning. We teachers should play with planning instruction through these approaches so we give ourselves a shot to reach all learners by tapping their different motivations.

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