Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How Do You Fit Play in the Junior Classroom?

While you may not actually learn everything you need to know in Kindergarten you do learn a lot.  One of the best things about kindergarten is that much of the learning is play based.  Students go thought the inquiry process and a variety of ways.  Much of the inquiry is not coming from the direct teacher instruction, but from the students themselves.  This inquiry is not about achieving levels or getting stickers, but more about the interests and curiosity of the children in the class.  Student lead play that goes to both places that teacher can see coming, and to surprising places of discovery that no ever expected.  I know my friend who has been teaching kindergarten for 20 years never expected her building blocks to inspire an inquiry on how to create a better Beyblade and Beyblade stadium, and yet there was a lot to learn, many experiments, written plans, and class discussions on the topic.  A rich topic that came from the students and linked with many curriculum expectations.

I know there is value in play based learning, I'm just not sure where to fit it into a junior class.  With 6 curriculum documents (not including French), CASI, assemblies, and other interruptions to learning, it is hard to find a way to fit play into the classroom.  I have had my students play Minecraft in the class, but the only free play they have had is during class party time.  Otherwise the 'play' has been task oriented.  Which isn't a bad thing; I am confident that the bridges my students built in game were at least 10 times better than anything they could have come up with using Popsicle sticks and glue.  But I don't think all that is enough.  I am trying my best to incorporate inquiry into the classroom, but how do I balance play too?

Is play still important in grade 4, 5 and 6?  When does play become unimportant?  Does play ever become unimportant to education?  I believe the answer to the last question is: play never becomes unimportant, but is that really true or just idealistic?  As an educator in a junior classroom how can I justify 'play' to my colleagues, Principal and parents?  So much of the education field is driven by data.  What data do I collect about play?  How do I balance play with everything else that I need to do in any given day?  I know there is a lot that my students can learn from playing: social skills, communication, science, connections to social studies, art, music... but without knowing what exact expectations they will met how much time can I invest in 'free play'?   These are things I wrestle with more and more these days.

I guess I will have to play with these problems myself for a while and see where my inquiries takes me.  If anyone out there has any articles or experiences they have had with play in the junior grades please feel free to share.  I will share too.  (I learned that in kindergarten.)

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