August 30, 2014

Play On!

Play On!
It’s that time again, isn’t it? Pullman feels bigger and much busier. There are more vehicles on the streets, more bikes on the paths and more folks at the bus stops.  It’s official.  School is back in session.
Although learning is often emphasized during the nine-month school year, we all know true learning never ends.  As long as one is alive, the thirst for knowledge and the quest for growth are present. Children feel this innately; curiosity is the hallmark of childhood.
So, how do we best facilitate and nurture their curiosity and love of learning?  The answer is a four-letter word.  PLAY. Yes, play is a critically important factor in how children learn. Yet, it seems far more often than not, we adults are limiting the amount of play time our children have in order to “better structure their time for learning.”  That’s like cutting down a tree to harvest the fruit.  It’s very short-sighted and highly ridiculous.
There are many strong voices of authority who have weighed in on this important issue. Leo Buscaglia said, “It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play, without seeing the vital connection between the two.” Acknowledged genius Albert Einstein chimed in, “Play is the highest form of research.”
I think Mrs. Miller (the teacher I had for both third and fourth grade) was a chip off the old Einstein-Buscaglia block.  Almost every single thing she taught involved play.  I learned my math facts through games of tag, hide-and-seek, dominoes, cards, jump rope and hopscotch.  I learned about geography by making salt relief maps. We played fox and geese in the winter where I learned about diameter, circumference, angles and other aspects of geometry. Making homemade ice cream and loaves of bread brought chemistry concepts to me. I learned problem solving skills as well as cooperation and a sense of belonging through play.  And yes, this was all done at school.
These hands-on activities were not the exception with Mrs. Miller; they were her standard teaching approach. I loved school and later became a teacher because of Mrs. Miller and how she taught.  And now, as a children’s librarian, I help make sure the library is full of hands-on activities for kids and families, so they can play as they learn and learn as they play.  From a dollhouse to puppets, trucks, trains, games, farm animals, locker boxes, and more – we are equipped for play. And it’s all free, just waiting for you and yours.
So as the new school year begins, let’s make sure our children of all ages have plenty of time to play in and out of the classroom. If we do, I predict we’ll have many, many more children who are happier, more engaged, eager to learn and bursting with excitement to go to school. Tina Bruce, Professor at London Metropolitan University, agrees.  She says, “It is becoming increasingly clear through research on the brain, as well as in other areas of study, that childhood needs play. Play acts as a forward feed mechanism into courageous, creative, rigorous thinking in adulthood.” Isn’t that what we all want?  Isn’t that what our world needs? Indeed! I say, play on!

Kathleen Ahern
Children's Librarian
Neill Public Library

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