Sunday, 19 May 2013

Work and/or Play (elevating the status of PLAY)

Yesterday I got thinking about the words we use to describe what children do at preschool... the whole idea that children "work". And I think it is important to reflect on the words we use to describe children and what children do - and how it impacts how we subconsciously view children...
play - learning (I see so much learning going on here)
but are they working?
Would they call it work or play?

I totally get why the word "work" is used to describe children's play - I use the term too, but I feel I want to move away from this description as it really belongs in the adult world not the children's world. I understand that by using the word "work" we are trying to show the importance of children's play - that play is as valuable to children as work is to adults - BUT play in the adult world is often seen as a waste of time - time that could be spent more constructively "working" and earning money....

If we are calling play for work are we then classing some forms of play as more important than other forms of play? And what signal does this send to children about their own play?

Children do get an enormous amount of pride when we call their play "work" - elevating what they have done to the same importance as adults, as their parents.
 I mean, work is so important it takes parents away from their children every day - and as was pointed out to me by Leigh Ann Yuen, parents can often say "I'd much rather stay here and play with you, but I have to go to work". What kind of message does this send - that work is something we HAVE to do and that work and play are two separate entities.
I wonder why it has to be work or play - why they have to be two separate entities - why not work and play - why not elevate the importance of play rather than describe it as work?

And play - well there are many types of play - adult lead play, child-lead/adult supported play, free play (and in the preschool setting this play is observed to see the learning going on and these observations can then be used to scaffold the children's play/learning)... And it is OUR work as teachers to see the learning - and to provide learning opportunities through play... and how children view play can be very different from how we as adults view it. I remember vividly how a c. 4 year old girl followed and watched my son and another boy play. She did not participate in their play at all - just watched. When her father came over to ask her to join him and her sister she replied "NO, I am playing!". It totally took me by surprise - it certainly did not look like play. This means it can be rather difficult for us as adults to define what play is - and if we are calling play "work" as well, then it will be even more difficult.

I remember discussing learning with a group of 3-5 year olds and one of them piped up "but we haven't been learning anything" (he had an older sibling in school). So I took them on a tour of the documentation and the paintings and projects on the walls and shelves around the preschool and showed them how much learning they had been doing while they were playing.
In a way I liked that they were unaware of the learning going on... that they had enjoyed the projects so much that they had classified them as play. At the same time it makes me feel sad that children see learning as work - something that happens in school, not in play. This greatly undervalues PLAY.

In the adult world team-building exercises are often based on play - doing assault courses together etc etc etc - and there is plenty of learning going on - not only the social learning but also the learning of new skills to complete the course or the activity chosen - and yet STILL play is not valued in the same way as work despite the fact is is widely used in the world of adults and children as a learning tool. WORK still takes precedence -

school work and homework - are seen as ways of learning - what about "playwork" - or what about school-play or home-play as learning of equal status?

1 comment:

  1. Such an interesting discussion...
    I always used the term 'play is children's work' when I was teaching to try and emphasize the importance of play to parents and other adults, but it is interesting how early we all start categorizing activities and assigning their 'worth'.
    I try to teach my own kids that nothing is more or less important - school is important, after school activities are too, and so is just mucking about in the back yard...