Play is Like Oxygen!
When your kids were younger, you probably heard educators talk all the time about the importance of play in their development. Everyone understands that play gives children the opportunity to learn through experimentation, to take risks, to learn to share, and to be flexible, among many other benefits. I believe that middle schoolers truly need different forms of play just as critically as younger children do, not just for their healthy social development, mental health, and creativity, but for their intellectual development. This week (on an unexpectedly sunny afternoon) I’m reminded of that importance and gratified to see an atmosphere of both structured and unstructured play throughout the school, and it’s not just about what happens at lunch and recess! Some examples:
Sixth graders just started an improv unit in Drama, where they use a number of theater games and exercises to practice skills like listening deeply, noticing and playing off each other’s emotional tone, keeping a story going, and making and receiving offers. They learn how to “make each other look good” by supporting each other’s acting choices, which is a huge confidence booster. Plus they laugh A TON. (Everyone got to see their teachers improvise last Friday at Assembly when, as part of a very silly “Olympics” competition, they had to explain why they were coming to class without their homework; the twist was, there was a secret letter of the alphabet that they weren’t allowed to use! Our teachers displayed some incredible creativity in this and other tasks, and got huge laughs from the kids.)
Seventh grade math class has been pretty playful lately. Right now they’re studying proportional relationships, and after discovering a giant’s handprint in the classroom (OH NO!!!!), they used proportional reasoning to estimate the size of the rest of the giant’s body. They found the ratios between different parts of their own bodies and made predictive scale drawings of the monster. Hmmm…let’s just say their drawings did NOT all come out as predicted, which forced the students to go back to their ratios and calculations and do some creative problem-solving. Again, lots of laughter, but also true engagement and intellectual playfulness, and in the end, they reached a consensus about how tall this giant must have been. It was so fun to watch.
I just asked some 8th graders about times when school has been playful for them recently. They laughed as they told me about creating online games for each other to memorize facts for a geography quiz, or coming up with goofy mnemonic devices. They also told me how fun it was earlier today in PE class when, after they finished an anatomy quiz, they got to choose activities to do outside. About half the class chose to jump rope and spent a solid 40 minutes doing it. If they’d been “assigned” 40 minutes of cardio, you can imagine there would have been some complaints. But since they’d chosen it, they stuck with it and they loved it!
At lunchtime, Sarra, Terra, Carol, and Parker were working on setting up risers in the gym for our Arts Night recording sessions tomorrow – that took some creative problem solving as well. We’re excited for our students to have the opportunity to play music together! And, we’re only a week away from being able to play in the snow together in Snoqualmie Pass – the best!!
If you want to read more about the importance of play for adolescents, and how educators can lean into it, you might enjoy this article from MiddleWeb, a middle school blog I enjoy. One of my favorite quotes: “We know that learning anything can be frustrating. Yet, when learning is play-oriented, students are more likely to engage in the practice necessary to get stronger in any discipline.” I hope your family is finding opportunities to play as well – we all need it.