play is practice

At the start of every school year, I gather my shiny new kindergarten students together for a lesson on why they are in school.  Most of them understand that they are here to learn.  Surrounding that simple word is a complex tangle of questions I am thankful I don’t have to answer.  Who will learn what, and when, and how much, and how do we know, and what will we do if they don’t . . . these are questions that are unraveled just enough to be knitted into dissertations and bundled up into curriculums.  While the experts and educational stakeholders tackle the complicated details, to these young learners, I offer this perspective on our brief time together: “When you were little (ok, littler) you couldn’t do very much. When you were first born- you couldn’t walk or talk.  You got better at these things with practice.  In school, we will practice.  

This makes sense to them and is the seed of an idea we will nurture throughout the year- that of a growth mindset.  We honestly acknowledge and celebrate: Yes, some students are really good at writing their letters, and some students are really good at counting, and some students are really good at being kind friends, and (my personal favorite) some students are really good at lining up quietly.  But we emphatically remind them that everyone can get better at all these things and more, with practice!

Each child walks into school carrying more than a backpack.  They bring with them background knowledge and experiences, natural abilities and inherent challenges.  Every year, elementary teachers perform a kind of educational triage. Determining who needs extra support and practice, and how much.  As educators, we are first-hand witnesses to the astonishing improvement that can be made through extra support and practice.  

And this is exactly what happens during Play Based Centers.  Whether it is targeted practice while working toward Individual Student Goals (ISG) or active learning through free play, daily PBC is an opportunity to practice skills in all domains- communication/ language skills, cognitive skills, motor/ physical skills, and social/ emotional skills.  

In fact, play is practice for life.  Life is hard, we can use all the practice we can get!

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