Stories to outrage you, ideas to inspire you, and photos of playgrounds to make you go 'ooooh'.

Play Today * Playful Learning

Kids with hammers, part I: A school for tinkerers (not test-takers)

Would you send your child to a school that gives its students hammers instead of standardized tests? Brightworks, a K-12 school in San Francisco, takes experiential learning to a whole new level. As it proudly proclaims on its website: "Our students fly kites, experiment with wind tunnels, and build turbines."

Founded by renowned tinkerer Gever Tulley, the school abides by the philosophy that tinkering and play are at the heart of learning. Student achievement is measured not by testing, but by exploration, expression, and exposition.

See Brightworks in action:

Would you send your child here?

 

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What schools could look like (but usually don't)

With their dreary hallways and drab facades, most schools look more like hospitals than like centers for creativity, learning, and play. How can we expect to inspire students in such uninspired surroundings?

These amazing schools break the mold. They understand that playful environments are conducive to serious learning, whether in the classroom, hallway, or schoolyard. Let's hope more schools follow their lead!

  • Ecole Maternelle Pajol, a kindergarten in Paris, France. Photo via Palatre & Leclère.
  • Kindergarten Kekec in Ljubjana, Slovenia. Photo via Arhitektura Jure Kotnik.
  • Fuji Kindergarten in Tokyo, Japan. Photo via Domus.
  • Villiers High School in London, UK. Photo via Clara Gaggero.
  • Maria Grazia Cutuli Primary School in Herat, Afghanistan. Photo via IaN+.
  • Arreletes Day Care Centre in Els Alamús, Spain. Photo by Jordi Anguera, via Xavier Vilalta Studio.
  • ESGE Secondary School in Genolier, Switzerland. Photo via ipas.
  • Antas Education Centre in Porto, Portugal. Photo by José Campos via Arhitectural.
  • Cotham School in Bristol, UK. Photo by Jaimee Woodley, via Playscapes.

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This fourth grader gets it. Why don't our schools?

Kids don't have to think very hard about why they need to play. They just need the time and space to do it.

Even so, kids seem to intuitively understand that while play is first and foremost about having fun, it's also about challenging oneself and learning from failure. As we continue to be baffled by school policy makers and administrators who are slashing recess and other play opportunities, fourth graders like Diego remind us of the important life lessons that our playgrounds have to offer.

Here is his eloquent ode to monkey bars:

Monkey Bars

You’ve taught me a lot of good lessons

You’ve taught me to be braver than I am

To swing out as far as I can

To keep pushing forward

To move one step at a time

To fall into a heap in the dirt

And then get up and try again

Monkey Bars, you’ve shown me the stars

- By Diego, 4th grade
 

Diego is a student in the Writers in the Schools (WITS) program, where this poem was originally featured.

Photo by Andy Schultz (cc).

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Take a trip to Kangaroo Land

We are staunch advocates of recess, but how many adults truly remember what recess is all about? It isn't just 20 minutes of mindless running and screaming. It's a time to create imaginary worlds, take on new personas, make friendships, break friendships, learn new skills, scrape a knee, engage in mischief, and much more.

"Recess Stories," a web series that bases its episodes on true stories, captures the delightful complexity of life on the playground. Take a look:

Please, remind us: Why are we taking this away from our kids?

See more episodes at recessstories.com.

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This kid might be the next Steve Jobs

"If we don't let our children play, who will be the next Steve Jobs?" Last year our CEO & Founder Darell Hammond posed this question in his Huffington Post blog. Judging from the nearly 25,000 readers who shared the post via social media, clearly some other folks are wondering, too.

Well, we just may have found him. Audri, the seven-year-old featured in this video, has built his very own "Monster Trap," similar in concept to the mouse trap in the popular board game of the same name -- except way cooler.

As Dr. Alison Gopnik aptly noted in a recent presentation at our annual Play Academy, "The point of play is not getting the right answers, it's getting all the wrong answers." Audri seems to intuitively understand this, remarking of his contraption: "I think it will have 10 to 20 failures and two successes. That's my hypothesis."

See if Audri's hypothesis proved correct:

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We all need to listen to this 5th-grader

This 5th-grader from Cache la Poudre Elementary School in La Porte, Colo. thinks that his recess teachers need to "loosen up." Why? According to him, their safety concerns are not only making it hard to stay active, but also to have any fun. 

In his words:

Exercise is really important and that is why I think the recess teachers should loosen up. We kids are just trying to have fun. Every day, it is a struggle to find what to do at recess, and then the next day, the fun is taken away.

For example, recently I was playing with a jump rope. I come out to school recess the next day and they are already gone. I want to complain to the recess teachers, but that will just get them mad at us all. I know they are just trying to keep us safe, but sometimes I think it is going over the line. Normally, teachers say school shouldn't be boring and it should be for learning and part of learning is being active. But these teachers are making it extra hard to do this.

See Wynter Brown's full letter here.

If you received this letter from Wynter, how would you respond?

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Playgrounds or grounded in play

Playgrounds….a play on words…leveling the playing field…play into someone’s hands….play ball….playing around…play fair….play fighting….play by the rules…plays well with others…..etc.

The word play is part of our culture…our expression…our language. As humans we play as a natural necessity and for children it is their preferred form of communication. In fact, play is essential for both physical and mental health.

From lullabies, to peek-a-boo, to playground adventures… to family board games… to sports…we communicate and connect through play. Observing children at play on a playground, or anywhere where play is allowed, one bears witness to a variety of relationship skills and stories. Playgrounds are ripe with opportunities for social skills, imagination, creativity, conflict resolution, and learning. It is through play that children’s thoughts, emotions, needs and wishes are expressed.

Yet…we have to honor and show interest in play. We have to take time for play that is imaginative and know that play helps connections.  We have to ensure it becomes part of the experiences we value for our children and for ourselves.

It’s easy to be too tired to play….it’s easy to be too busy. Many years ago, as a pregnant working mom (a play therapist in an elementary schools no less) I was exhausted one afternoon after picking my daughter up from day care.

“Mom can we play?”

Usually those magical words would be a wonderful invitation, but not that afternoon. That afternoon my response was “Oh Katie, not right now…I’m so tired. Why don’t you find something else to do besides play?” 

She titled her head, and a confused expression came over her face. She eloquently responded with the wisdom delightfully capable of a four year old…“But Mom, playing is what I do!”

There you go….Child development lesson 101.  Parent education lesson 101. If we want to connect and communicate with children, we must be grounded in their language of play!

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"No recess for you!" – A good way to punish bad behavior?

How to get bad students to behave? Threaten to deny something they like. Kids like recess. Therefore, the "bad kids" will learn their lesson if they are forced to stay indoors, while the "good kids" get to venture outside and play.

At first glance, the logic seems sound. But while taking recess away seems to be an increasingly popular disciplinary measure in the classroom, is it really effective? Research shows that kids who get a chance to run around and let off some steam during the day actually behave better in the classroom. Not only are they more focused, but their brains are more receptive to learning.

In fact, it’s all too likely that the rise in ADHD and other attention disorders is related to the decline in outdoor play opportunities for children—in schools, neighborhoods, and homes.

This is not to say that bad classroom behavior should go unaddressed, but denying kids recess is unlikely to have the desired effect. In fact, it’s those rowdy, uncontrollable kids who need recess the most.

Have your kids been denied recess because they misbehaved in the classroom? Do you think taking away recess is an effective disciplinary technique?

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