Play--It's Not Just For Kids...

There has been a great deal written about the value of play for students in school.  Play has been shown to be a major factor in developing social skills later in life.  There’s even an article published in Developmental Psychology in 1980 (almost 40 years ago!) that studied kittens that had not been allowed to play with their littermates.  The results showed that the kittens who had play and those which had not were both able to hunt equally well, though the ones restricted from play had very limited ability to take social cues.  Since then, there has been much more research which shows that the prefrontal cortex benefits early on from play, and helps to establish patterns that contextualize our emotional well-being in later life.


I’m not writing this about the kiddos who come into our doors every morning.  I’m writing for the adults, the educators who are with students from eight to three.  See, one of the things I’ve found, is that while there is a benefit for kids to have free-play, there is just as much benefit for the faculty (and admin!) to engage in free-play when they can.  Perhaps the ship has sailed for all the old kids in the front of the classrooms when it comes to developing those all-important future skills, but there is something to be said for the value of playfulness when it comes to solidifying connections to one another.  This can work toward faculty and students.

The thing that leads me to bring this up is the all-encompassing Spirit Week that leads up to Homecoming at so many U.S. schools.  There are always days that students and teachers wear fun clothing, but there are some places where there is more going on.  For example, one of the schools I taught at would have an afternoon of skits by each grade-level and then one by the faculty.  I was always eager to join in, and the year before I left to become an instructional coach, I dressed as King Tut and sang the song by Steve Martin as an opener to the skit (with revised lyrics to make it more appropriate).  Another school I taught at, I was handed the mic and used it to shout out “Are you ready to rumble?!”  Something that I’d never really wanted or thought to do, that is, until I had the opportunity.

A long story short, and let’s not just think about Spirit Week, which is only one example of play during a school year, there are ample opportunities for educators to play.  I once held a funeral for the five paragraph essay, and delivered the eulogy in five paragraph essay form.  We then went, as a class, and buried it.  I had four students act as pall bearers.  But even beyond clever performances, a school is a place where there are so many resources.  There’s a woodshop, a kitchen, media labs, a library, a stage, sports fields, multiple experts all under one roof!  The school is a place to try things out, and see what you can do.  I invited an author, and the author actually came!  The kids thought I was some sort of magician.  Most other fields don’t offer this kind of freedom and opportunity for play. 

In general, more than anything, taking advantage of those moments where play is just hovering over your shoulder, can make the difference between staying sane, and losing your mind—and vice versa.  It can feel risky, but at the same time, that’s where kids live in school, perched on the edge of risk.  Play can take risk and show it who’s boss.  It can say, “See, I told you! No big deal.” And really, how often is that really the case—that what we have blown up to monstrous proportions, never was a big deal outside our own mind?

It’s great when we can create those opportunities for ourselves. It’s greater when we can invite others to join us. It’s the greatest when we feel open enough that we don’t need any invitation to have fun with each other and are able to enjoy what time we share.