As many people know, I’m a strong advocate for play-based learning. Real, authentic, student-driven and led play. Free play. I’ve called this play many things over the years, including “free exploration time” and “work time” — for play is a child’s work — but this year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I switched to just calling it “play.” If we believe in play, and have seen the value in play for academic, social, and emotional learning, then we should be standing behind it and calling it what it is. The problem: supporting play isn’t easy.
Ontario has a wonderful, updated Kindergarten Program Document, which stands behind play-based learning. In fact, the front matter of the Document is explicit about pedagogy, and truly puts the child at the centre of the learning. This Program Document makes me happy, especially the huge focus on Self-Reg. Not just any self-regulation, but Self-Reg as defined by Stuart Shanker. It’s often the Self-Regulation and Well-Being Frame, which has Paula and I talking the most.
- What are we noticing about our students?
- Why might this be?
- What are their stressors and how can we address them?
- How might we modify our program and/or environment to better meet their needs?
Sometimes we pose these questions with multiple students in mind. Sometimes we talk primarily about just a couple of students. But everything we plan and everything we do starts with the kids.
It’s for this reason that I struggle the most with some comments that I’ve heard recently — not necessarily even directed at our classroom, but just play-based rooms in general — that kindergarten is a “free for all.” The implication is that …
- the environment is chaotic,
- little planning is involved,
- and learning cannot possibly happen here.
Every day, I have the pleasure of seeing that the opposite is true. As much as Paula and I record these videos of the classroom for our reflection, I think that we also do it to show others — parents, educators, and administrators — that play is working.
- Kids are engaged.
- Learning is evident.
- Play may be “free,” but with an environment that is set-up to maximize its success.
As I think back to my feelings when I overhear these comments about play and kindergarten, I realize the dysregulation that they can cause. Even as a strong advocate for play, these words always cause me to stop and reflect on why we’re doing what we’re doing and how we know that it’s working.
I wonder though about the stress response that these kinds of comments lead to. Do they stop some individuals from embracing play, or questioning why they do embrace it in the first place? How might we change this play dialogue to a more positive one? I would like nothing more than for people to see the wonderful that Paula and I see when looking at photographs like the ones below, and realizing the value in this child-centred approach for kindergarten and beyond.