The job of a child is to play.
And yet we tell them to stop and pay attention.
The job of a child is to run.
And yet we tell them to sit still and listen.
The job of a child is to question.
And yet we tell them the questions we want them to answer.
The job of a child is to wonder.
And yet we tell them that their answer was wrong.
The job of a child is to daydream.
And yet we tell them to stay focused, to pull their heads out of the clouds.
The job of a child is to create.
And yet we tell them to color in the lines, that trees are green, and birds are blue.
The job of a child is to invent.
And yet we tell them to do it our way, because it is easier, and has been proven to work.
The job of a child is to learn.
And yet we take away all of the tools they use to learn, and are disappointed at the results.
Part of the change that needs to occur in education is a shift in mindset about childhood. It has somehow been accepted that children must stop being the very things that make up who they are, simply because they are now of school age. Working with the natural impulses and desires of childhood (creativity, imagination, and play) will lead to an education system in which children become what we’ve always desired: enthusiastic learners.
This doesn’t stop in kindergarten, or third grade, or middle school. Play is part of being a well-rounded human being, regardless of age. We, as adults, play sports, we have hobbies, we go out to dinner with friends, we go hiking, or running, or fishing. We read novels purely for fun. We doodle during meetings, we decorate our homes. All of this is play. Why are we taking the opportunity for students to play out of the school day, when it is such an important part of our human experience? Can we really compartmentalize learning and play so separately?
If childhood had a profession, it would be called “play”. It is the job of every child, and it should be taken seriously, for it is through play that children learn about the world. Play is imagination at work, and without imagination, we would cease to evolve as a society. We would become stuck, inert, frozen in time without new ideas to propel us forward. Children are born knowing this, and they work tirelessly in their play to develop the skills that they need to survive.
When children want recess, it isn’t because they are lazy. It is because they know that their real job is to play, and they are determined to get on with it.
When children want learning to be fun, it isn’t because they are spoiled and don’t know how to work. It is because they learn best when they are having fun, and they want to do what helps them learn best.
We need to redefine “play” and “fun”, and realize that they are not synonymous with a chaotic free-for-all. It is not a waste of time, it is a way to engage learning. We need to use play and fun as the mighty and powerful learning tools that they were intended to be.
Play is not a reward for a job well done. Play is part of the job itself. Teachers know this. It is the job of policymakers, curricula creators, school board members, test makers, and the powers that make the big decisions, to put aside their agendas and let children and teachers get on with their jobs; the jobs of childhood. To learn, and to play.