Reflection is an invaluable tool for a progressive educator, enabling the construction of more impactful learning opportunities for children. Reflecting on my teaching practice often requires stepping out of the routine of the day-to-day of the academic school year to reach new perspectives.
To this end, I participated in the Opal School’s Summer Symposium on Play, The Arts, and Education for Democracy last June. In a breakout session on play I attended, the following questions were posed by the facilitator: “Is your personal definition of play/teaching reflected in the opportunities you frame for children in your settings?
Are your experiences [with play] hindering the opportunities you create for children?”
As someone raised and educated in a traditional setting, I was not often afforded opportunities to play freely. Now, as a teacher, my personal definition of play has evolved to be defined in opposition to what I personally experienced as a child. Play is open-ended and unstructured, imaginative and exploratory.
Play allows for opportunities to engage in conflict, to take risks, to develop ideas and to dwell in uncertainty.
Defining play, however, and actually fostering play are two different things. In practice, framing opportunities for play that adhere to that definition has been limited by my lack of personal experience with it, as well as my fears around issues of safety as the supervising adult.
Even something as basic as building block towers holds inherent risk: a wayward tower constructed unsoundly could fall on an unsuspecting child.
Keen on protecting our children from possible harm and preserving their innocence, adults are often inclined to stop play with violent themes, for example. We forget that play is the children’s medium for learning, their way of understanding the violence they encounter in their everyday lives–in movies, in books and even in the world around them.
To children, violence does not contain the same socially-loaded meaning that it does to us. Reenacting in play the violence they see does not predispose children to violence, but in fact, allows them to process what violence is and why it happens.
As teachers, our role is to work with children to develop their own systems of safety with rules that they can operate by. Our leap of faith is trusting that children will do what they can to abide by those rules, and that when they fail (as some inevitably will), they are able to learn from those failures with our guidance.
Attending this session on play offered a crucial reminder that my biases inevitably influence my teaching, imposing constraints on the children’s learning experiences whether I intend them to or not. Therefore, my imperative as an educator is to continually reflect on and confront my own inhibitions to improve my practice.
In doing so, my students benefit from the richer classroom experiences I can create.