Friday, August 14, 2015

Let's PLAY!

This post was sponsored by Genius of Play. But my passion is all mine.

Today, Reagan wraps up her week of "camp". She starts preschool in two weeks, and because she's Reagan, and she's stubborn, and she's three, I wanted to give it a trial run, and a relaxed summer program seemed like a good way to test the waters.

Obviously, there were some moments that made it very clear that preschool for Reagan will be a big adjustment. There was some sulking at drop off, there were some moments of frustration during the day, and even the occasional accident (very unlike Reagan!). But every day when I picked her up, she said she had a great day, and that she had fun, and that she wanted to go back the next day.

I'd load my tired little girl into the car, and start the questions.

What did you do? 
What was your favorite thing today?
What was fun?

And every day, she'd answer with.

We just played, Mommy. It's fun to play.

Ah, unstructured free play. The reason we chose this school.

Obviously, I know they are doing a few more things. Reagan has told me that they have dance parties, and they read stories, and they play games, but ultimately, this preschool is all about play.

Two years ago we sent three-year-old Madison off to a great play based preschool. We loved the open ended set up, where you were free to play in the kitchen, build with blocks, dress up, whatever you were drawn to. And yes, they had circle time and story time and art time, but the overriding philosophy was play.

Then her school closed.

It closed right around the time that our town announced full day kindergarten, and districts everywhere were boasting about their rigorous kindergarten curriculum. They were launching these kids into hard core academics and, oh, look what they could accomplish. And if that wasn't unsettling enough, the rigors of kindergarten pushed the hard core academic focus into the preschools. Suddenly, every school we were looking at for Madison, despite the cheerful rooms of toys, was being sold to us on the "academic strength" of the program. Maybe they thought it's what parents want to hear, but not one program sold themselves as "play based".

Where did all that academic time come from?

I think we know. From playtime.

And if kids are in school, all day, not playing...and then they come home with homework (yes, already)...and then they have to eat and do chores and maybe even an activity...where's the play?

Now, I'm not going all crazy on the schools. The pressure comes from above, and it doesn't only trickle, it gushes down. If third graders are going to be tested on X, then they need to know Y by the end of second grade, and Z by the end of first grade, and the only way they'll all be able to do that is if we start doing this in kindergarten, but even that's not enough, so preschool teachers, if you wouldn't mind, we really need them all reading and writing and doing math before they get here.

Prove your worth! Every child can and will overachieve! The race starts now!

And I know many, many children who were in those academically minded preschools, and that rigorous full day kindergarten, and the kids did well. Would Madison have done well and still come home saying she had fun? Of course.

But cutting down, even cutting out, the time for unstructured play, starting as young as three and four years old, isn't really the best thing. Heck, play is still important for five, and six, and seven, and eight year olds too!

Among parents, there is sometimes an attitude that playtime is important, but it needs to be focused, and adult facilitated, and always have an undercurrent of learning.

He wanted to play in his toy kitchen! So cute! So I got out the measuring cups and we wrote a recipe (look how great his letters are!) and we counted out scoops and we learned about time while we watched the clock and how to divide our cake among all the dolls because no one should have hurt feelings...

Parents and kids playing together is great. Playing is FUN and the girls love asking me to join in. But does anyone else feel like that particular playtime became more about writing and math? The adult took over, and the rigor is back. Sigh.

When I was in New York a few weeks ago, I got talking with a woman about the Genius of Play campaign. And let me tell you, when you have two people, both passionate, on a subject like this, you feel like you can talk for hours. What this campaign is doing, in a nutshell, is speaking out about the importance of free play. The fact that play helps develop all sorts of skills, especially if we get out of the way and let it happen. When we were kids, we just played...and we still learned. Now, we can't seem to stop ourselves from micromanaging and making sure that every moment of the day is actively teaching a lesson of some kind.

I was asked to take the Pledge to Play - to let my kids engage in one hour of unstructured free play every day. I signed right up...because kids deserve that from us. I hope you'll check it out, and no matter how much rigor the kids have in learning, they can take an hour to just do what kids do best.


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