I think it was Maria Montessori who said, “Play is the work of the child.” Another one of my defining teaching expressions is “Children learn what they play.” I don’t know who said that, but I believe these things and know they are true with all my heart. All my experience validates this–33 years of teaching, and a bunch more of working with children!
My research on best practices in elementary education keeps bringing me to phrases like “discovery”, “inquiry-based”, “wondering”, “questioning”, “researching”, “active”, “hands-on”, “child-centered”, “student choice”, “engaging”, “time-on-task”, “brain-based”, “integrated”, “thematic”. Of course I’m going to pay close attention to integrating instruction and teaching thematically because that is what I’m all about, but it amazes me that what is considered best practices today is the same stuff that was considered best practices 30 years ago, and 60 years ago, and yet doesn’t seem to be very much a part of educational practice or textbook construction, although the math and science folks certainly seem to be trying.
I don’t think Maria, and the others I like to quote, are talking about structured educational games so much as they are talking about immersing children in what they are learning, and allowing them to learn it in a way that is natural—”Play [really] is the work of the child”. That’s what I’m looking for as I develop thematic teaching units for upper grade classrooms. I feel like I am playing, but I am learning TONS!!! Not just about the subjects on which I’m writing, but about graphic arts, Photoshop, building a website, and using blogs. My research is confirming my beliefs about what an effective teacher does, and I’m having more fun than I’ve had since I retired as I try to combine content areas (art, science, and social studies) with language arts to create an integrated, standards-based program that is EASY and effective for teachers to use (THAT’S the hard part), and FUN and effective for children to experience. Learning is, by definition, FUN, and school should be fun, too!
Originally posted on another website on March 17, 2010.