During the Admission season, we are often asked by visiting parents about our daily schedule. If they are looking for a school that honors the need for children to play a lot, they will add up the minutes of recess and physical education time to see if it meets their standard for their child(ren). Conversely, we are often asked by our current parents to add more structured activities to Extended Care, reducing the opportunity for free choice play for the children who come to school early or stay after dismissal. There is a dichotomy in these parents’ thinking – some wanting more social-emotional development time for children to truly play freely, the others wanting more structured, adult-directed activities.
Those of you who have heard us speak about the importance of play know that Warren-Walker School leans toward providing ample time on the playground and minimal structured choices during Extended Care. Erika Christaki, author of the popular book The Importance of Being Little, stated our thinking on this topic quite clearly in a recent interview and review of her book.
She talked about the value of all the learning that takes place when children play. She says, “Playful learning is embedded in relationships and in things that are meaningful to children. I think the biggest [learning opportunity during play] is the use of language. When kids are speaking to one another and listening to one another, they're learning self-regulation, they're learning vocabulary, they're learning to think out loud. And these are highly cognitive skills…I would say ‘complex skills’ versus ‘superficial’ or ‘one-dimensional skills.’”
The unstructured play that we observe at school is multi-faceted. The bringing together of sand, tools, and children has created whole villages for gnomes - complete with roads, tunnels, homes, and gardens. Today, a group of first grade girls were pretending they were a group of animals having lunch on “plates” (Frisbees) – a raccoon eating salad, a dog eating an ice cream sundae, and two penguins sharing spaghetti. Enjoying the warm sunshine, a group of third graders spent a lot of time in the sandbox creating lounging chairs – rising to adjust the contours of sand for the comfort of their backs and knees. Climbing structures have become space rockets and hoola-hoops have become lily pads for a family of frogs. Given the time, the friends, toys, equipment, and space, creativity and social interaction abounds in very favorable cognitive and social-emotional ways.