The Work of Children is to Play

This morning, I walk into a classroom filled with tables sprinkled with toys. Today is Child Development. I set down my bag filled with ‘healthy’ lunch, pens, books, and so many papers. The colors of the gadgets on the table contrast with the grey of the walls, the ceiling, the floors. If there were real windows in the room, the rays of morning light would have graced the toys beautifully but, as it is, the ugly lights above would make do.

I look around me. There are only a few of us in the classroom. I pick up the toys. I explore, noticing the odd shape and the holes on either sides, opposite the buttons on the other. I snap them together, then make a row. My neighbor makes a crown. Looking up, I see I’m not the only one. I smile, knowing childhood really can’t die. Mitch Albom wrote in one of his fabulous books about a man who said, “I am every age up to my own,” (Albom, 1997, p.121). Yes, this is me, practicing good ol’ APA format. However, since it’s doubtful I’ll provide a citation at the end, I’ll just tell you here that the book is Tuesdays with Morrie. Probably the highest recommended in my library.

I digress. I am every age. I am five. I am playing with colorful toys. I am one, exploring how this toy works. I am 23, missing when I believed that, when I was older, I could pack my own lunches and put whatever I wanted in them. Sadly, gone are the days when chocolate muffins were just nourishment, not a size up in jeans.

Glee fills me as I play, and that is what our lesson shows us. Piaget said, “Play is the work of children.” As someone moving into the life of teaching children, I fear the Common Core. I fear curriculum. I fear what it will make me do.

When I was little, I would play lava monster at recess. I enjoyed running up slides, hanging on the monkey bars, leaping from platform to platform to avoid the dreaded, burning death of lava when the monster could reach you. These games taught me agility, problem solving, critical thinking, empathy, how to lose, how to win, how to socialize and be part of something. A worksheet can’t do that. Neither can lecture, or those dreaded textbooks I eventually gave up on reading. I am 23. And toys still light up my face when I see them. I still learn better by dancing and examining new gadgets than I do by sitting at a desk, listening to someone talk. How can I expect people eighteen years my junior to do that?!

I feel a burning in my fingertips, my shoulders, my chest, my legs to provide for children what they actually need. I will twist the curriculum until I find the “right” fit for my class. I will follow the standards, but I’ll decorate it with lights and sounds. Yeah, they’ll learn. But they’re gonna play to do it.







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