There’s something so satisfying about watching kids play. As my 5th graders near the end of their elementary years, I wanted them to leave with a sense of play.
Actually, the conversation started with a colleague who teaches kindergarten. We were both inside with my students during a rainy day. Her comment: “They don’t know how to play anymore, do they?” This was as my children were racing around the room or sprawled out in a huddle talking to each other–gossiping about each other.
They start getting in trouble as they near middle school years. There are friendship troubles and some strange boy-girl relationships going on. On the playground, they sit around at tables often or in groups. As I look around, I realize what is missing: play.
So, today we went down to kindergarten to play. The kindergarteners and their teacher set up stations for my grade 5 students and then they left the room. There was a Lego area, a light table, plasticine for molding and playing, large blocks of all sizes for stacking, bits of ceramic pottery. Their teacher put on some music from a Zen garden, and in we came.
I had prefaced the play experiment with the fact that Google and Apple and other creative tech companies incorporate play into their workplace. It helps fuel creativity. I wanted to give my kids something to go on so they didn’t think it was too babyish. I told them it was “forced” play. No one was to stand off and do nothing. They had to choose something.
Well, as we entered the room, they quickly zoomed to the Lego, the plasticine and the large wooden blocks. The boys dug into the huge Lego box and started building cars and a fortress. The girls near the large blocks built a beautiful castle with a pen for their animals. Other students in the hallway were shaping food and cities out of the plasticine.
Their play morphed into throwing the plasticine on the floor to hear it squeeze out all of the air bubbles. Then, they wanted to toss it like a pizza maker. After rotating activities, suddenly there was a bowling alley made out of wooden blocks with fruit for balls.
The conversation was interesting. Some leaders in the class were suggesting how to do things. They led the creative play. One student was told he couldn’t play because there wasn’t enough room. He didn’t have the social skills to respond back so went out into the hallway to mope. I felt like a kindergarten teacher myself as I talked with him and then brought him back into the group, telling them they all could play together.
Another child, who is new to class, wondered from station to station, unable to engage in any of them. He sat down with Lego, tried something. Then, he moved, tried something else. So interesting.
After an hour, the students wanted to stay. I hope they keep a sense of play as they move on to Middle School. I wish them that and more as they’re growing up.