Want to Come Out and Play?

Do you ever listen to TEDTalks? Many weekends, I seek out one or two TEDTalks to inspire me in my life and to refresh my perspective on what is possible in this complex and troubled world. This past week, I posted twice about the importance of play—both for adults and children. And I often think about the value of play in relation to education, especially as we become more and more tied to high-stakes testing in grades K-12. Having worked most of my professional life as a teacher, I feel very strongly about the importance of play and creativity in education—for everyone.

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I always wanted to wear a Viking hat!

I found Stuart Brown’s talk on the importance of play especially informative and inspiring. Brown, a noted psychiatrist and play researcher, has looked at play in animals and humans, especially the effects of play deprivation. This quote form his talk really struck a nerve for me, “…if you think about life without play — no humor, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy and, and, and. Try and imagine a culture or a life, adult or otherwise without play. And the thing that’s so unique about our species is that we’re really designed to play through our whole lifetime.”

In his TEDTalk, Brown quoted Brian Sutton-Smith, a noted play researcher, who had this to say: “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.”

I’ve been pondering that thought all week as I read about teachers and students who are often deprived of joy and creativity due to the over-emphasis on standardized testing. Last week, I had a chance to put my beliefs into action in my own classroom at the University of Maryland. When I couldn’t show a video because the computer was down, my students immediately said, “Let’s have class outside.” I’m not one to fight an overwhelming wave of energy, especially when it sounds appealing to me as well as to the students.

We all trooped outside into the April sunshine and found seats at tables, benches, and on the ground. One student climbed a tree—he was so full of joy and excitement that I couldn’t ask him to lower himself, though one of the groundskeepers eventually spied him and chased him down. My students worked in small groups on a writing activity I had planned and there were smiles on everyone’s faces. We did eventually watch the video on several of the laptops students had available.

Having class outside and seeing my students be so happy and relaxed made me even more committed to keeping some element of fun in my classroom. And I began to think about the ways I want to play and what I can do for myself to make that happen. My watercolor pencils are sitting patiently for me to start. A bag of colorful fabric waits in the closet.

How do you incorporate play into your life? Please comment below and share your play story!

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