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By Bob Houghtaling
Parents often ask their children “What did you learn in school today?” While the answer varies from ‘nothing’ to a legitimate discussion, about academics, this dialogue occurs in millions of homes. Obviously, such repartee goes a long way towards supporting the education process. However, there is much more to be considered when exploring how young people learn. To put it simply, do we ever ask kids “What did you learn at play today?” With summer around the corner, it’s important to note that a child’s learning continues – only in a different way.
Play is an often misunderstood dynamic. Sometimes it’s considered frivolous (especially when adults are doing it). Other times it’s scheduled–organized teams, run by adults, or recess comes to mind. Finally, play is too often placed away from everyday life. By this I mean it’s importance is minimized and viewed as something to do only with the availability of time.
Plato told us “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”. Not one to argue with a disciple of Socrates, I believe that the ancients knew that play helped to shape components of what we now call social/emotional learning. Working with others, overcoming challenges, handling defeat, using some creativity, and more, come about from play. Oh yeah–let us not forget the value of having some fun along the way.
Play is not goofing off (which also is important to some extent). In fact, play is active and engaging. Learning need not always be relegated to sitting in chairs and accruing facts. It can also come while engaged in things like climbing trees, pick-up games, jumping rope, playing make-believe, swimming and hanging out with friends.
Adults often forget the benefits of play (for themselves included). Inside all of us resides a youthful exuberance that once led one to bounce on the bed, make snow angels and look at clouds. Some of us have kept this alive. Others might be too busy to revisit their inner kid. All adults can gain from taking a moment to play. In doing so we benefit. Also, in doing so we are modeling behavior for young learners. Learning can also be fun!
A few years back I wrote a poem titled The Boy. It is basically a whimsical look at recognizing the child inside that I described earlier. Maybe we all should come out and play sometime.
Here’s wishing you all a wonderful summer. It has been an honor to work with you and your children throughout the year. See you soon.
Bob Houghtaling taught Graduate School Students at Providence College and also served as a Social Studies Teacher for Ocean Tides, Inc. He too enjoys visiting his inner child.
A young boy on a rainy day
Sloshed in puddles long the street-
Eating his favorite popsicle
And splashing with his feet
The steady rain kept pouring
Creating a river ‘long’ the way-
He finished the tasty delicacy
Leaving a stick behind to play
Never before has such a boat
Adorned the oceans blue-
The mighty little popsicle stick
Driven by imaginations crew
Down the raging river
Stopped by twigs and stones
Only to get a gentle nudge
From ‘Captain All Alone’
Braving the rushing waters
The boy captain and his friend
Lived a high adventure
To the street’s very end
I often think of that gentle boy
Walking in the rain
Did he grow into a man
And carry age’s pain
I wonder if he’d ever try
When the sky turns gray
To grab his tasty popsicle
And go outside to play