Sunday, March 20, 2011

It's OK to Play

I read this article and wholeheartedly agree with what they set out to prove and the psychologist in me is fascinated by how they did the research. It's a hard thing to measure-creativity:

I think of myself and how I learn even as an adult. If I'm being instructed on a new computer program, I'll sit through the training, pay attention, take notes--you can tell me step by step what to do; but I'll tell you what, let me "play" around with it for a few hours and I will learn to navigate it much more quickly and in a way I can apply it to fit my needs.

It scares me how data-driven education has become, but particularly because it's seeping down to even the early childhood grades. We start our standardized testing in Kindergarten and believe me, there's pressure for the students to do well. Our school is compared to other schools, teachers compared to other teachers. I try very hard to keep the kids upbeat and not anxious about it, but also am required to "practice" with them to make sure they can use strategies for the format. How sad is it that we did autobiographies this month-the kids wrote about their lives from birth to the present and several of them wrote about taking a BIG test. Are those the memories of school we want our kiddos to have?

Anyway, I truly believe in letting kids use their imaginations whenever possible. Some ways I try to incorporate this into daily activities:

1) Workstations-teachers are against this because of the noise level or having to manage the kids. But I love using them. Not only are they able to work on their academic level, but I love to watch what they come up. We were using magnets last year to match to the picture magnets for beginning sounds. One of my kids asked me if they could do something else with them, absolutely!

Just made up their own game with the materials-are they still working on reading skills? But now it's their own version of it and therefore more fun!

2) Let them create their own science experiments. Sure we have objectives we have to cover. But if they ask a question, let them figure out the answer. We were watching a Brain Pop on ramps and 2 students were debating how you could make it roll faster. The next day during their ancillary, I let them figure it out using any classroom materials they wanted.

3) Give them a bunch of materials and see who can build the tallest or create the one that floats-it's problem solving, it's collaborative thinking. We've used straws and chenille wands, paperclips. Once we made kites-each group had a different choice of materials-wrapping paper, newspaper, construction paper and we predicted which would fly, then tested them-great Spring activity.

4) Incorporate art. I know what you are going to say-there's no time. Make time. If you do it regularly, art projects take 10-20 mins. Use those products to have them write a story or a poem. Incorporate it into a Social Studies lesson. I can't believe it when I get kids in Kinder who have never held a paint brush ( I had some that literally tried to paint with it upside down). And if they don't do it now they will less and less opportunity as they advance to the higher grades. How many times seen faces light up when I say that's what they are going to do. There have been several times you can hear them say: this is the best day of my life!

And I refuse to tell them what color to make something. My mentor teacher my first year walked in while we were making turkeys and started to tell my kids that did it wrong, turkeys were supposed to be brown. That just infuriated me. Artists are supposed to create the visions in their heads-if they see purple turkeys, then they can make purple turkeys! My kids learn the first week not to ask me what color to use-my response is always "you're the artist".

5) Let them just play at recess. I just love listening to them play and the games they make up. One year I had a class that walked around playing "Zombies" (obviously the Romero zombies, not the fast-moving ones of cinema today). A colleague said "you're going to let them play that?". Of course I am. They took the time to create the game and hey, they're saving the world here! :) How much you can discover about others by just playing with them.

So that's my rant for this month. I just feel so badly for kids that have to sit in their seats and complete workbook pages and worksheets all day. I know I couldn't learn like that. It may not prepare them for the test in typical way-however, I truly believe any time you are encouraging children to think for themselves that you are preparing them for their tests. And even more importantly for life.
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  1. Great article! Thanks for sharing!

  2. "You're the artist." Love that! Next year is my first year teaching, I'll be in first! I'm going to be the only 1st grade teacher at my school (as a first year teacher...ahhhh!) but in a way, I'm glad to have the freedom of making my own decisions. And letting my kiddos be individuals is definitely one I will make. Thank you for this little reminder!

  3. This is an excellent post. I also teach kindergarten and first grade, and a large percentage of my day is spent encouraging my students to be creative. In an increasingly data-driven environment, it is so refreshing to know that there are other teachers who see the importance of play and of letting kids just be kids. Keep up the great work!

  4. Thank you so much for your comments! Good luck with your 1st year. 1st Grade is a tough grade level, but you can do so much with them! :)

    Peaceful-we are out there, don't worry! I often have to defend a project or activity to others, but I am willing to do that for the benefits I see in my kiddos!

  5. Thank you for the article! The BIG TEST has been on my mind a lot lately. I have 4 kiddos of my own and see the stress that it puts on them. My 9th grader is studying things that I learned in 11th grade. My 7th grader is taking honors classes to allow him to complete one year of a two year college during his senior year. This is his drive, not mine. He is also a perfectionist. If he only has an assignment for a power point presentation, for example, he will stress all the time he is doing it because it has to include everything that will be graded according to the rubric. He wants his work to be readable, understood, etc. This is difficult for the rest of our family to live with. Anyways...
    I teach Kindergarten. This is my 6th year in K. I love seeing the growth they have over 10 months. Our school district has adopted very structured reading and math programs. Last year we were given our new math program and told to follow it word for word. (WHAT?!) This year we were to do the same thing. After being told by a 5 year old that the answer he was giving was correct because that is what the paper had on it, I couldn't teach the way I was expected to any longer. I still use the program, but as a springboard. My Promethean board adds to the content, but my students use manipulatives and talk with one another to problem solve. I love it! They are getting so much more than they would if I were to only follow the "hymnal". This "hymnal" is not only taking the hands on and talking away from the students, but the teachable moments away from me.
    Thanks for listening to me vent.

  6. Dee-hey, anytime! :) I am so thankful for an administration that actually lets you teach and veer from our reading and math adoptions as we need to. One of my biggest fears is that administration will change and we'll be stuck in a situation like you describe. We get out the basal and I just see the kids' eyes glaze over.

    So much of education schooling and research is about differentiation-it boggles my mind anyone can think a scripted program will reach all learners. Good for you for rebelling a little bit!