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Play is children's work

preschool 2012 0024Maria Montessori wrote these words and many educators since have wisely used them as a basis for acknowledging the vital role of play in learning. Defining play could take us an entire learning forum but for the purposes of this article, we will call it engagement in a chosen activity which can be spontaneous or planned. It is distinguished from other activities in that it is chosen by the participant/s not directed by another.

Many adults have an ambivalent relationship to play, thinking that it is something kids will do anyway and that unless they ‘work’ hard on something , there is little value in their activity. Many definitions of play are hence of the sort …. engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. In Kinma terms, such definitions miss the core learning built into the activity of play; that in fact the creator of the play can have a most serious and practical purpose, whether the purpose is or is not known.

It serves us well to think of not only children at play but adult scientists, artists and explorers. Without play it is difficult to imagine just what such people would do.

Watching Kinma children inside and out allows us to quickly appreciate the ‘work’ that is involved in ‘play’. As parents, I am sure you have often sat and watched children at Kinma play. It is nothing short of wondrous. I often feel us adults can learn simply in the observing. It is tremendous to be reminded of all that unfurls in play when a new parent comes and articulates their experience.

At the pre-school, a new mum whose daughter is just starting, spoke in amazement as she watched the children working on constructing a world out of blocks. She noted how the children meticulously ensured every detail of size, shape, sequence and of course, practical fulfilment of the idea. She was totally awed by the children’s focus on the task at hand- switching here and there between chats among themselves, asking for support as required and careful consideration of the growing plan. She watched the delight on many levels; of success after struggle, of simple laughter, of complete presence. Finally, she remarked that her daughter had been ‘lost’ in play for over an hour, completely oblivious of mum’s comings and goings.

preschool pod-play

At Kinma there are many philosophical and practical ideas that hold the possibility for the play this mother watched. We consider these our ‘hidden structures’

  • When you are safe and trusted, you try new things easily and naturally
  • When you have a range of appealing materials with which to engage… but not too many that you are overwhelmed … you are supported in deciding
  • When you are play/working, work/playing in a community, you learn about being respected and as a result about respecting others. Sharing is a natural outcome in community.
  • When you can explore freely in your own time, because the very process of exploration is acknowledged as vital, you can come to learn for yourself rather than being told
  • When you can ask questions and know that someone is genuinely interested in engaging alongside you in the ‘finding-out’, exploring is exciting, learning is the natural activity of life.
  • When your play and learning is acknowledged and appreciated with enthusiasm and joy, you just want to keep on playing and learning.

These ideas are of course as applicable to playgroup and Primary as they are to pre-school. Playing with ‘stuff’, ‘ideas’ and each other are indeed the seeds of our work.

 - Juli G, Educational Co-Ordinator