Tuesday, May 20, 2014

More on why we say “Unplug and Go out and Play”

By Donna Klockars

 Or: Put your Focus on Practicing the Pedagogy of Play

Have your kids ever sang Baby Beluga? This is one of our favourites. We have the children’s performer “Raffi” to thank for this sweet song.  I recently heard Raffi talking to a CBC radio reporter and he was telling parents that children don’t need screen time... they need you time. I stopped what I was doing and sat down to listen to every word of that interview. He was saying all of the things that Melanie and I have been talking about lately. So, with Raffi’s endorsement, we feel empowered and confident to stand up and shout out our song:

“honour children’s right to play!”

Our kids don’t need us to buy the latest electronic gadgets or learning programs...They don’t need lengthy teacher directed circle time. They need play time; indoors and out.  They need us to take the culture of play seriously. They need us to pay attention to their play and support their right to play.”  Play, indoors and out, contributes to a child’s sense of well-being and helps them learn self-regulation and respect for others’ limits. Children need extended periods of play. Our kids need us to listen, watch, and respond to the stories they create while playing. 

Supporting their play is more active than saying you believe play is important. If you are seriously acknowledging the importance of the culture of play you need to be present, focused, ready to make relevant contributions. You need to know how to enhance the play without interrupting the flow or direction. 

Mummy and Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie, Uncle, Family Friend, Educator, there are multiple roles for all of you to play. You don’t have time to look at your screens, because at any given point during the play, you may be called upon to be the indirect or direct stage manager, prop creator, or plot energizer. You don’t become a skilled responsive play watcher, by toe-dipping. Indeed; this “supporting play” is not for the faint of heart. You need to be “in the moment”, engaged in the plot of the play and ready and confident in your ability to “follow the child’s lead”. You, and only you, can be the co-playmate who skillfully manages to extend and contribute to a higher level of complex play episodes. Only you know the wonderful pieces of background knowledge that naturally fit the pretend story line or dialogue. It is because of your attention and your observations that you are able to extend the number of turns taken during the conversations that come up. Only a caring adult has the drive and motivation to bring out the best interactive play sessions. You must be ready to play with children on their terms. This might mean sliding down the slide or wearing a weird outfit. It might mean making a big fat mess, or letting it get noisy. You have to acknowledge the importance of outdoor play and the child’s right to connect with natural landscapes. You might have to crawl over a log or help build a fort. If you are an educator you need to learn how to create tools that assess a child’s strengths and needs within the active, real time context of play.

Melanie and I want to wrap our young learners in their warm cozy literacy blankets. We present at least three stories a day and use our stories to set up play centres. Every chance to retell or act out a story is celebrated. Dramatic play is what the young learner uses to develop an understanding about how “story” works. We want to set our kids up for reading success by starting out right. This means we provide opportunities to merge “story” with the power of play.

Our blog name is called “Growing Up to Read”. Our efforts to support our young learners through literacy stations and three stories a day is because we want them to start kindergarten with strong literacy skills. Our lessons are thoughtfully put together based on current research findings that connect symbolic play and play-based learning with strong literacy development. (Play and Literacy in Early Childhood: Research from Multiple Perpectives. Roskos, K.A.,&Christie, J.F.(Eds.).2000 Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.) 

We believe that increasing opportunities for rich symbolic play has a powerful role in literacy development. We tell kids that they are story makers when they pretend play. We share with parents that when children engage in pretend play they are using the same representational thinking needed in early literacy learning. They are creating complicated story-lines and trying out new roles and ways of speaking. This is how young children get a handle on the big ideas behind print. They actively construct new understandings and create theories about how everything works. 

The importance of outdoor play is recognized by the entire staff at the Boys and Girls Club and the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre. The children have extended periods of outdoor play, in good weather and bad. All of the adults help the children develop their sense of wonder and curiosity while they observe their environment. We have enjoyed acting out all of our stories while we are outside. Paper salmon have spawned up the blue slide. Frog has practiced leaping, hopping, and swimming. Raven and Eagle have gone fishing so that they could have a nice lunch. Bear and Red Squirrel have made honey sandwiches for their picnic and then gone for a hike by the pond (aka the puddle).

Melanie and I were able to watch and listen while the children played. We learned a lot about the children’s language development during the semi-structured play sessions. One of our recent stories is about young children going out to play, even when the weather is bad. The children in the story discover that they have fun every time they go outside! We all enjoy chanting the last verse of the Poem:“No matter the season, no matter the day, 
Our Mother always tells us, 
“Go out and play.”
And though we like to play in the sun,
Each time we play outside, we always have fun!”

So, this is why Raffi and I are saying, Young learners DON’T need screen time; but they DO need play time!

Always in friendship,

Donna ,The Literacy Lady

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