Celebrating Play: Early Childhood Education at Blake
If you haven’t already, you will soon hear of 21st century education or 21st century skills. Although you may anticipate that these things refer to technology, the concepts instead refer to a series of skills that students will need as they move forward into the 21st century. These skills include collaboration, creativity and communication. How, you may well ask, do we teach those things? My response, quite simply, is play.
When you walk into one of our early childhood classrooms, you may see our students doing some familiar things — listening to a story, writing their letters or developing their counting skills. Or you may see them playing any number of things, like Lego, dress-up, building with wooden blocks or trying out board games. Are they taking a break? Are they just playing? What are they being taught?
In his excellent book “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul,” Stuart Brown argues that play “is actually helping sculpt the brain. In play, most of the time we are able to try out things without threatening our physical or emotional well-being. We are safe precisely because we are just playing.” He continues: “The genius of play is that, in playing, we create imaginative new cognitive combinations. And in creating those novel combinations, we find what works.” In this way, play cultivates one of the key 21st century skills — creativity. It also allows us “to socialize successfully.” Such socialization requires other key 21st century skills, namely communication and collaboration. During an interview with Bob Fagen, an expert in animal-play behavior, Brown presses him for an explanation about why bears play. Fagen replies: “In a world continuously presenting unique challenges and ambiguity, play prepares these bears for an evolving planet.”
So the next time you visit one of Blake’s early childhood classrooms, celebrate the fact that they are just playing and that, in this way, we are preparing our Blake Bears for a planet that is evolving as it moves further into the 21st century.
On Saturday, Sept. 22, Blake is hosting a conversation about early childhood education. Click here to learn more.
If you want to know more about Stuart Brown and his work, please see www.stuartbrownmd.com and www.nifplay.org/.