Posted by Alythea
Just looking at an article in the NY Times that might be of interest . .
“The Movement to Restore Children’s Play Gains Momentum http://www.nytimes.com Play helps develop crucial skills, advocates say as they try to pull children and their parents away from the screen.”
I’d say it’s a sad day when kids need a “playbook” to (re)learn how to play! On the other hand, if we don’t find a way to do what one parent said at the end of the article, “I think a big part of free play is having space to do it in, a space that isn’t ruled over by adults,” then we are really in trouble. And how did we get so obsessed with test scores and liability for injuries that we no longer allow recess in elementary schools or playspace in kindergartens? No outdoor play for kids unless adults are along to supervise? Wow.
Wow, what a great description. Thank you! So rare for most of us to get out of our context to learn how other cultures do it. Yeah for play. And, I might add, most of us adults need time for unsupervised play too — thought the supervision we need freedom from might be our own internalized authoritarians.
I’m curious about your observations about justice (somewhat indicated by your parenthetical “and sometimes fight”); How would you decribe how they make decisions and mediate conflict — I ask this because the mainstream fear in the US I think might (among other legal issues) focus on the Lord of the Flies type situation happening. Many parents and teachers just dont’ trust children to resolve their own conflicts without becoming dominated by the bullies in the crowd. I don’t share that concern – at least not to anything like the degree institutionalized in many schools and homes in the U.S. But your vantage point is so informative, please tell us: To what degree to do you see: compassion, listening, justice, vs. more dominated by power, control and might makes right?
I loved reading the reflections because I’ve had the great fortune of working overseas my whole career, and I am fascinated by the topic discussed.
Reading Amanda’s description of Zanzibar reminded me of my time there, as well as in South Africa.
In Johannesburg, my husband and I would sometimes spend time at the park in Diepsloot, a township near our school. We marveled at the children who played all day alone –2 year olds to 12 year olds – all playing and taking care of each other for hours without any adult supervision.
When one boy leaped over the teeter totter (in game with a pack of others), he tripped and hurt himself fairly badly, and as he scooted off and away, the other kids were laughing at his mishap. But as I watched I could see too that they were checking on him, and he rallied and grinned, taking a little time out to nurse a wound before deciding to get right back in and play some more!
In Kenya we stayed with the Masai out in the Loita Hills and they too would spend all day in various age-groups. Often the older child (even a 10 year old) would have full responsibility for a two year old, all day long.
The children would move in groups, play in groups, and be alone for hours or all day – and even sometimes all night – in age groups. Interestingly, in both settings I saw much more laughter and gaming than bullying or harm.
But still, I believe that at times of conflict, the Alpha personalities (girls and boys) dominated in each of these settings and could be observed as the controlling force, either for care or for ridicule/dominance.
As for the role of culture:
When it comes to ‘justice,’ I think culture plays a significant role. I felt that in Taiwan, the individual learned to follow the group norms. In Saudi (where I am currently) I feel the individual learns to follow the pecking order (a learned pecking order defined by community status).
Culture plays a significant role socially and I never get tired of observing human behavior (all ages) and reflecting on the impact of culture on behavior (my own included…..).
Over the years I’ve found myself asking the T-440 question “What do you notice” and after observation I find myself able to adopt a more anthropological perspective.
Regarding school approach, in every International school where I’ve worked we end up addressing the playground issue (Enough supervision? Consequences? Less needed? More needed? Bullying? Free Play?)
Our School team definitely favors unstructured time for students,and we explain to parents regularly what we feel are the benefits. (Note: Parents from different cultures have different expectations regarding Supervision, with North Americans the most frequent critics of our practices and calling for more adult supervision on the Playground).
Our practice includes coaching inside and outside of the classroom the behaviors that we value as a 3rd culture school, but helping the students solve the issues, and giving them independent time to do so.
Thanks for the inviting conversation!
Growing up during the Vietnam War in a family of 12 kids, we played at any moments that guns and bombs stopped. We chased each other in the rain naked, divided into teams for sling shots, used lemons and limes as balls, used rocks for many different games, etc. We had so much fun unless we got caught by our mother who would whip us for fears that we would step on mines. What I want to say here is that we learned to adapt to situations, be flexible, and be creative when needed. As we’ve grown up, we’ve always looked and made used for whatever available around us. Without free play, kids are missing these skills. It’s funny to see people who lost the remote control for a TV to spend a whole time to look for it instead of stepping forward to push the button by hand.
On the other hand, we had to follow the “rules” from parents, older siblings, adults and authorities, especially for girls. We were not allowed to explore or discover because our parents and adults know “best”. For example, we had to follow the lines of letters until we could write exactly like those printed letters. What we missed are analytical and critical thinking.
Dear T-440 graduates and friends,
I have enjoyed reading this conversation about play – it is a privilege to learn about experiences that folks are having in other cultures.
I can add my brief experience in Japan, when I visited schools in about 1998 as part of a Fulbright grant for teachers. At recess time in an elementary school I visited, teachers had tea together while children were left unsupervised in their classrooms, free to go outside to play or to stay inside, eat their recess snacks, chat and move freely around the room playing their own games. At lunch time, the whole school was outside for a full 30 minutes (it might have been more, I don’t remember) after they ate lunch. The younger kids played games together in one part of the yard and the older kids – middle school age – organized their own ball games and played together in different areas of the playground. There was no supervision; I saw no conflicts or problems. The kids seemed very happy and it seemed like everyone was included. This is of course not a big sample, and I know that high school teachers we spoke to talked about bullying among older kids. But it was certainly impressive to see that the younger kids took care of themselves, without an adult present, and there was a long period of play for them every day at lunch time and at recess in the morning.
For a wonderful account of play at the Mission Hill School in Boston, which I’m sure many of you know, there is a new book called “Playing For Keeps,” by Deborah Meier, Brenda Engel and Beth Taylor (Teachers College Press, 2010). It is delightful.
It’s always good to see what’s possible, despite the repressive attitudes in most areas of the country. My daughter is having a hard time finding a kindergarten in Brooklyn which is not an “academic kindergarten.” It’s disheartening to enter a kindergarten in most public school these days where there are no blocks, paint, sand, etc, and no time to play. All desks and worksheets.
Hoping for the pendulum to swing sometime soon . . .
Best to all,
Hi T440 friends,
I would like to add on the two messages below…
Being Japanese growing up in Japan, I can picture how it was
like in the school yard. But I also think it must be quite different now in
2011. Because of all the portable nintendo games, cellphone games etc, the kids
do not play the same way they did back a decade ago. I think you can see
similar in the US and other economically developed countries… Also, because
of the academic pressure, you will rarely see kids playing in playground after
school and over the weekend. Very sad…
I live in NYC and have a kindergartner. What Rhoda described is the exact reason why we decided to send him to an independent school. He even got in to the Central Park East Elementary School which Deborah first started. I think I really didn’t like the fact that there is an influence from the public school system even in that school. I simply do not want my son to learn to take test. I want him to be in the environment that curiosities of students are appreciated, valued and kept in the center of learning.
Although I like my son’s school, if I have known
this school, I have probably tried this school for him as well:
This is a school created by the member of Blue Man
Group and provides an education similar to Reggio’s approach. Very
interesting… My chair who has an early childhood education background speaks
highly of this school and she visited both Reggio in Italy and this one in NYC.
(not far from Brooklyn!)
In the New Yorker (July 5, 2010) there is an article about such playgrounds. It’s called “State of Play” and subtitled “How tot lots became places to build children’s brains.” The abstract is here and I’ll also paste it in below. (The New Yorker is available full text through several databases, and most public libraries offer free access to at least one (General OneFile, Academic OneFile, Educator’s Reference Complete, LexisNexis Academic, etc.), so there’s no need to be discouraged by the paywall on the New Yorker site!)
OUR LOCAL CORRESPONDENTS about playgrounds and new playground designs in New York City. Writer describes the opening of the first municipal playground in New York, in Seward Park on the Lower East Side, in October, 1903. The Seward Park playground, which was largely the project of a citizens’ group called the Outdoor Recreation League. Since then, more than seven hundred playgrounds have been built in New York City. Writer visits the Seward Park playground with David Rockwell, a New York architect. Discusses the Imagination Playground, Rockwell’s contribution to playground design. Five years in the making, it is scheduled to open later this summer at Burling Slip, at the South Street Seaport. Rockwell’s playground has no monkey bars, or swings, or jungle gyms. It has almost no fixed equipment at all, except for a dual-level sandpit; a pool with running water; four masts equipped with ropes and pulleys; and a sixteen-foot tower in the form of a crow’s nest. In a single concession to the traditional playground vernacular, there is a slide. The Imagination Playground will, however, have hundreds of “loose parts”: big lightweight blocks made from molded foam. The blocks will be augmented by other bits of playable hardware: wooden wheelbarrows, car tires, plastic barrels, and the like, with which children can make structures, build vehicles, construct water channels, and otherwise create an environment from scratch. In association with a play-advocacy group called Kaboom, Rockwell has been marketing the loose parts as the Imagination Playground in a Box: this summer, ten playgrounds around the five boroughs will be provided with a set each. Mentions a playground in Battery Park that is being designed by Frank Gehry and tells about recently built New York playgrounds designed by the firm of Michael Van Valkenburgh. Discusses the history and evolution of playgrounds, including the European ideas of “junk playgrounds” and “adventure playgrounds.” Over the past century, the thinking about playgrounds has evolved from figuring out how play can instill young citizens with discipline, to figuring out how play can build brains by fostering creativity and independent thinking. Writer visits the South Street Seaport Museum, where a Playground in a Box is kept for visiting school groups. Describes a group of Manhattan fourth graders playing with the loose pieces.