dancing penguins


I once knew a sweet and dedicated teacher who spent hours creating what she considered “learning through play.”  They were mostly sight-word activities on themed paper.  Cute, themed paper and pencil tasks.  She proudly informed me that they included “play”: cutting and gluing letters to make words.  These tasks were mandatory, teacher-directed, product-driven, with no choices or variation. But, because the worksheet had dancing penguins and involved the children doing more than sitting, she considered it “learning through play.”  I’m not saying that what this dedicated teacher was doing was not a fun way to motivate kids to work on sight words.  We all need more fun in our lives!   But it wasn’t play.  Neither are “fun” songs that help you memorize lists of facts.  Adding song and dance to the day is certainly fun, and has value, but all of these things are not play- they are playful.  These playful activities are not a replacement for play any more than looking at someone’s pictures of a recent vacation is like having been there.  ”Don’t these pictures of me in Hawaii make you feel like you are actually there?”  Um, no not really.  

The first requirement of authentic play is that it is freely chosen.  Just because you, as the teacher, believe your students will enjoy something, it doesn’t redefine that activity as play.  Have you ever been invited to or involved in an activity that others find fun, but you consider boring, or even torturous?  Here are some examples of activities people enjoy: skydiving, partying at a high-end nightclub, tailgating, spending an afternoon at an art museum, rock climbing, binge-watching sitcoms, scrapbooking, line dancing, camping, a day at the beach, gardening, spending a weekend at a casino, preparing a Thanksgiving dinner for 30, singing karaoke, pet sitting, visiting an exotic destination, horseback riding, and paintball fighting.  If you could choose one, what would it be? Would your spouse have chosen the same thing or your neighbor? As individuals, our preferences vary widely! Our students are no different. They may politely or genuinely enjoy what their teachers have chosen for them to do. Or they may be indifferent, or find it torturous! But, in order for something to be authentically play, it must first be freely chosen, not chosen by others for you, no matter how well-intentioned.  We certainly need more dancing penguins in our lives, but they are no substitute for authentic play! 

Play on, my friends! 


In today’s world, many parents do not appreciate the importance of free play or guided play with their children and have come to think of worksheets and other highly structured activities as play.‍  –PEDIATRICS Volume 142, number 3, September 2018 5 Downloaded from http://www.aappublications.org/news by guest on December 31, 2018


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