MenTeach - New England Symposium: The Importance of Play Now

by James St.Clair

The symposium was held on January 28 from 8:30- 12:45.

DIANE LEVIN:
Diane's presentation was delayed about 20 minutes because of some technical difficulties with equipment on Wheelock's end. Diane's presentation emphasized the importance of play in light of the commercialization of play and the introduction of screen technology to children at younger and younger ages. She argued that commercial tie-ins with toys define the parameters of the play and limit the more open ended imaginative play that is so necessary for children to make sense of the world and develop social and problem solving skills. The screen technology for early learners becomes in many ways practice for taking directions. Most programs direct children toward a certain end and limit the directions the play can take. Diane also gave some examples of two-dimensional play that would better serve learning if it were three dimensional, for example, block building on a screen as opposed to real world block building.

Diane ended by showing the learning in the physical, social, and imaginative realms that open ended play inspires.
The talk was very interactive and the audience chipped in with examples of their own and some very poignant observations.

THE PANEL:

After a short break, each of the four panelists spoke to a certain aspect of play. The presenters were Ed Klugman, Professor Emeritus at Wheelock, Charlotte Clarke, a retired daycare licensor for the Massachusetts Department of Early Education, Jim St. Clair a retired kindergarten teacher of 39 years and David Ramsey a curriculum developer for the Boston Public Schools.

ED KLUGMAN:
Ed gave an overview of play from his early years in Germany to his current interest in inter-generational play. All were fascinated to learn that Ed was a student in one of Friedrich Frobel's kindergartens in Nuremburg. Ed spoke of the deprivation of play as a result of his Judaism in Nazi Germany. This was an important factor in his lifelong study of the importance of play.

CHARLOTTE CLARKE:
Charlotte pointed out the changes in the standards to emphasize the importance of play. She said there has been a big change from an emphasis on what centers can't do to what they can and should do. Charlotte gave many examples of her coaching center staff in how to implement open ended play and lessen the time children spent listening to teachers and working on discreet, rote skills. Charlotte sees the State as an agent of change that can help move centers toward more developmentally appropriate play. She then took questions from the audience that led to a discussion of how to advocate for play based learning.

JIM ST.CLAIR:
Jim went over his teacher training and history and acknowledged that he never had to compromise his core beliefs: the idea that learning should be fun and that all children have an expertise in something and our job is to find that out and celebrate it. Jim referenced the High Scope Perry Pre-School Project Research as a validation of the importance of children having choices every day. He then spent the rest of his time talking about making choice time sacred as a way of guaranteeing sufficient time each day for play based learning in the public school kindergarten environment.

Jim found that if this time was given over to children each day, the other demands on children's time are much more palatable. Jim showed some fottage of choice time in his classroom and emphasized the importance of a wide variety of activities including blocks, sand and water play, dramatic play and arts activities as well as some science and literacy activities at a drawing and writing center. One compromise that Jim did make was to leave some time each day for children to record (with pictures, phonetic spelling or dictation) what they had done at choice time as a way of sharing with others.

DAVID RAMSEY:
David was the last panelist and he reported on the 'Focus on K1' curriculum in the Boston Public Schools that was introduced and has been quite successful. It was initially implemented in 175 pre-K classrooms and has led to the development of 'Focus on K2' for kindergartens. The three components are: a play based curriculum that opens the world of learning; the building blocks of math; and professional development. The curriculum is built around 6 units of study and each one has four featured read-alouds. Within that framework there is lots of flexibility for individual teachers. The teacher's role is as facilitator. Each center time ends with 'Thinking and Feedback', which is a time for children to explain and share their learning. There is ample small group time outside of center time to address other curricular demands. And teachers find that these times are more fruitful if the children are allowed a reasonable center time each day.

FOLLOW UP:

The panelist's presentations were followed up with a time for questions and comments. The general feeling was that the overall presentation had been very inspiring. Participants were happily surprised to hear what is being done in the Boston Public Schools. Participants did comment that public schools could learn a lot by looking at what is being done in many pre-school settings. That led to ideas on how to advocate for play based learning and arguments for convincing staff, administration and parents of the importance of this and the successful outcomes that result. Most of the presenters went to lunch afterwards and talked about the possibility of doing this again with a greater audience. All agreed that the total effect of Diane's talk followed up with each of the panelists was very inspiring and made a cogent case for the importance of play-based learning.

January 28, 2017