A post of wisdom (I wish I could claim it for my own!)

One of my coworkers received this message from a mutual friend of ours regarding unstructured play for children. I cannot begin to emphasize the value I have placed in what this division head has written in the post our friend has shared. The author describes a simple truth, but one that we overlook on a day-to-day basis:

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” – Plato

I spent some time over the weekend researching what many prominent educators have said about the value of play in a child’s life. The list spanned centuries and included historical philosophers such as Plato and Confucius, early 20th century perspectives such as John Dewey and Maria Montessori, and current educators and innovators such as Michael Gurian and Michael Schrage. As I delved into this body of work, I was struck by the depth of published research on this topic, and also by the consistency in message, regardless of time period or educational camp with which the educator is associated: Play is important – and providing time for unstructured play is vital to a child’s development. Many researchers link play to creativity development and claim that play is the essence of innovation. Others claim that physical activity not only provides an appropriate outlet for children to exert energy, but it also helps students (particularly boys) focus later on in the school day and access higher level abstract/critical thinking skills. Still other educators tout the importance of play because it helps children become confident and comfortable with complex friendships and allows them the constant opportunity to manage random and spontaneous social situations.

As a society, we have become increasingly structured and scheduled. For example, most Meadowbrook students are quite busy with activities after their full school day ends. While there is certainly immense value in these enriching activities, I urge parents (and being a parent, I need to constantly remind myself of this!) to preserve some time out of the regular family schedules for unstructured playtime, whether it be with family members, neighborhood kids or playdates with friends. As Brendan Largay noted in his blog earlier this week, one of our faculty reads this summer was Richard Louv’s ”Last Child in the Woods.” This fall, already, I have heard numerous teachers reflect on the role of play in their own childhoods (for many, this was before the advent of cellphones and the Internet) and remember fondly the joy of riding their bikes for hours before dinner, trying to catch frogs in a nearby pond or pretending to be a rock band with friends, with only tennis rackets and a wooden box to serve as guitars and a drum set! The consistent theme that emerged in these faculty conversations is that imagination and creativity need time to blossom…

Here at Meadowbrook our schedules are quite busy, a reflection of modern family life. We offer a robust and vibrant curriculum where students are stretched, stimulated and engaged all day. In an effort to preserve time and opportunities for unstructured play at school, we have started to look closely at our own schedules. Last year, we opened up the campus woods during recess… and Woodyville sprung to life! This year, we have opened up our playgrounds and lower field during morning drop-off… and the children have loved the opportunity to participate in pick-up soccer games, swing on the swings, or just hang out with friends. Interestingly, many children have advocated for themselves and persuaded their parents to get to school right at 7:45 am in order to take full advantage of this early morning time for play! We have also heard from many of you, saying that you appreciate this downtime built into the Meadowbrook schedule.

As the Lower School division leader, it feels odd to begin this blog with a quotation from Plato and to end with the following, but I believe it stays with the common theme and spirit of play. So, with apologies, I close with a relevant and light-hearted excerpt from a classic John Hughes movie:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." – Ferris Bueller in "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

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