Play and Imagination

Many educational scholars have written about the role of play and discovery in Education. There is no doubt that play, whether directed or undirected, plays a huge role in childhood. Think back to your own childhood: Do you remember lessons in school? Which lessons? Do you remember sitting in a desk and writing letters over and over? Or do you rather remember the lesson about dinosaurs? Or about the Native Americans where the teacher let you dress up or look at pictures?

This fall, I haven’t been teaching, and I miss carving pumpkins with my three little princesses, and making turkeys with the kindergartners. So, to preserve a little bit of that childlike joy, I went out and took pictures of myself playing in the leaves, as a reminder to myself, and to others, how important it is to have a little fun!

The things which we remember are the ones that touch the most– and by providing opportunities for young people to feel with all five senses, we can foster observation, a skill wanting in all fields, not just the arts.

Going out and raking leaves with children is not something that a whole school usually endeavors to do, but it can provide the opportunity for children to get in touch with the cycle of the earth. By seeing and feeling the leaves, students can be inspired by their beauty, their different textures, and the different sounds that they make as they dry up. You could do music projects, or installations.

I’m not suggesting going out and taking over from the maintenance crews, an undertaking that most schools would not want to put back upon their students, but just taking a rake, and going out and doing a little for the experience of it. Especially in urban schools, where perhaps the children do not rake their own yards, this can be of benefit. There is a disconnect between what my generation and slightly older people know and what somebody even four years younger than me has experienced.

With the technological revolution, most children have never planted a garden, nor canned fruit, nor have many raked leaves, though I’d venture that more have done the latter.

I’ve no statistics to support my hypothesis, but I will say this: There is a park behind my parents’ house, that was full of elementary aged children every evening until it got too cold and snowy, and sometimes full even then. The shrieks of other children playing which made me jealous as I struggled to do my homework, are no longer heard. I see a few children playing there, but even in summer it is much emptier than before the proliferation of video games.

If children are playing video games instead of playing outside, they aren’t digging under logs and finding snakes in the play hours they have at home. Maybe we should foster some of these skills more actively at schools as the children drift into more and more insulated technological bubbles. Maybe, like the walking-to-school movement, we should sign treaties with parents for the non-proliferation of video games!

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