Whatever Happened to Unbridled Play?

6 01 2011

My oldest son Caleb is a table gamer. Doesn’t matter what type, he’ll even let you choose if you ask him. You like playing Uno? He’ll take you on. Skip-Bo? Scrabble? Risk? You name the time and the place and he’ll be there. The Game Of Life, PayDay, Sequence and Greed are all up there on his favorites. Don’t know this 13-year old? It doesn’t matter your age or your gender – if you tell him you’ll play with him, he’ll instantly make you his friend. Caleb will wake up at 5am if others will join him in a game. An with the number of rounds of Killer Bunnies we played, we seemed to re-define the “Family Game Night” concept over the Christmas Holidays this year.

His dad favors the particular games that don’t take as long to play. If pressed for time, you can modify a match of Phase-10 to a “lightning round” where you eliminate every second phase. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the experience with my kids, I just want to compress it a bit. (I was also the guy that would change the clocks back as a babysitter to make kids go to bed early. Sly, but dishonest, I know).

Now Caleb’s favorite game is Monopoly. He has several versions including the electronic version (which uses credit cards instead of the cold, hard cash) and the handheld card-style game of Monopoly Deal. We bought him the original version a number of years back (for $2 at a Garage Sale) and he was hooked for life. If winning is everything, Caleb has discovered a strategy which makes him invincible.

It’s amazing the amount of joy that my son can muster when he gets to play table games with others. When things get close, he literally shakes with excitement and the smile on his face is as wide as you can imagine. It’s actually more fun watching him than it is playing the game. Us Hagkulls like to stick to the rules and even invent a few of our own, but I was reminded these weeks that it’s quite enjoyable to just sit back and simply play and enjoy the people we play with. It also reminded me of an era I enjoyed – the era before “Play dates” were scheduled.

It made me think if we do this enough as educators. It seems that the school day is terribly structured and the student’s schedules don’t often allow for unbridled play – the run your guts out, laugh your head off variety with a twinkle of mischief in your eye to match the sheer wonder of your freedom. Child (and adult!) development needs to include a healthy dose of unstructured play with others everyday. Aren’t those some of the moments of school that you remember the most? Aren’t those among the experiences that you want your own students to remember the most?

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4 responses

6 01 2011
Justin (@newfirewithin)

That is so true about school schedules being terribly (over) structured. I’m guilty of it in my classroom too sometimes. I do my best to do 20 minutes of Google’s 20% time per day. I teach language arts, so I tell them what they do must help them be a better writer or reader. So, I guess it’s not totally unbridled, but it’s something.

I think you’re right, though. It’s something that is lacking more and more.

– @newfirewithin

6 01 2011
bradhagkull

Thanks for your comment Justin. I appreciate the fact that you seem to be a teacher that understands the need to let kids discover their own play.
I was talking to a playground installer recently and he said something that was quite profound: What kids think is play and what adults think is play can be two separate things. He had talked to dozens of PAC groups in his role and he’s concluded that in a “grown-up’s” mind, a playground isn’t really a playground unless the structure has a set of swings. And yet in surveys with kids, swings are nice, but the climbing apparatus is what they prefer. Interesting, huh? The message I gleaned from that is that kids will figure out what they want to do without a lot of adult input anyway, so why not turn them loose and simply let them?

7 01 2011
Cristina

Hi,
I wanted to tell you that I totally agree. As a matter of fact, I also wrote a blog on that http://ateacherswonderings.posterous.com/let-the-students-play
Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂
To be reflected on: who is responsible for kids’daily schedule and their lack of play?

7 01 2011
bradhagkull

It’s a good question Cristina – Who is responsible for kids’ daily schedule and their lack of play? Certainly at the lower grades, boundaries for safety and guidelines for appropriate play are the teacher’s role. My lament though is the fact that we’ve done too much in structuring the play itself that we rob students of the sense of wonder that stimulates their imagination. I’ve seen that our fascination with time and the potential for catching germs has limited the adult’s view of what’s “appropriate”. Let them invent their own fun and if they get dirty – oh well. They may learn something on their own from the choices they make. On a rainy day at recess, give kids some popsicle sticks, a rubber band and some play-doh and encourage them to be creative.
As a PE teacher, my goal is to get their heart-rate up and to make sure they have a blast. There is a lot of freedom in the type of activities we do and I love hearing about other PE teachers giving their kids “choice” days. Food for thought, for sure!

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