Common “Cor” Standards—#8 and #9 of 10: Play Is at the Heart of Learning

Part of a series on the real “cor,” or heart,  of all good teaching.

Children know the difference between a heavy heart and a happy one. They are usually happy when they are playing, and in such a state they are most open to learning. That is why play is universal.

Up until the 18th century, many people believed there were periods in history when children in Western countries were treated as if they were miniature adults. But that’s a belief with little support, except that provided by accounts and artistic depictions of aristocratic families. It is true though, that in the West, childhood was not written about as a distinct period of growth until around the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today, we seem to be in a period of confused understanding about childhood. On the one hand, parents are generally protective, loving, and devoted to their children; on the other, parents often have to place their children in the collective care of others from a very young age for long periods of time so they can go off to work to earn money to care for the children and themselves.

Parents also enroll their children in schools from a very early age to learn the skills they will need to become productive adults. Most societies in the world today value the place of education in a school setting as necessary and important for their children. (At the future’s edge, both home schooling and virtual education are growing influences.) But in today’s so-called advanced societies, children in schools are again being increasingly being treated as miniature adults, with little time provided for play, amusement, or just plain fooling around (what scientists call exploration and experimentation).

Some people think that this reversion to the earlier way of thinking about children is necessary if they are to succeed in the future adult competition between countries in the global marketplace. Competition is modeled and taught to children by families and schools that give primary attention and importance to winning in competitive sports at all levels and to winning academically through grades, test scores, and “racing to the top” as fast as possible.

# 8: Play is the messenger from the body and heart to the brain

Children are in motion from the time they are born. They quickly learn it is fun to move. It makes you feel good. It gets you places and it makes you laugh and others laugh. If you move too fast or get too silly you might fall down and hurt yourself. “Slow down,” Mom and teacher say. “Pay attention.” Spontaneous, outdoor play—running, jumping, screaming, climbing, make-believe, and pretending—was once thought to be the essential birthright of children both at home and in school. No more. Now it is a PE break to “get the wiggles out” and get back to the business of learning, seated at a desk or in front of a computer screen, just like the adults at work.

#9 Play is a positive and enjoyable structure providing cognitive clarity and solid executive functioning to the developing brain

Games in art and music combine physical and cognitive activity to enlighten the brain. Guessing games, puzzles, board games, mysteries, word games, experiments—all require a playful mind and deepen discovery and knowledge acquisition. But these days, there’s no time. Test prep, formative assessments, and achievement tests require teachers to turn children into data bites informing their ability to “raise scores,” just like the adults in professional sports and the stock market.

Children as miniature adults copying patterns in the modern world of grown-ups. Or children as new adventurers on the frontier of knowledge and discovery with guidance from adults who value the role of play and childhood in school and life. Which do you want for the children in your life?



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1 comment

  1. Chip,
    I agree with you wholeheartedly…expecting children to take in all the information we are giving them, seated, quiet, and docile is really counter to their nature. Also, expecting that all 7 year old children learn at the same pace and level is not wise…we really do need to figure out better learning environments with a lot of time devoted to active learning-in all that phrase implies.

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