Dimitra Spyratou – 06/08/2019
‘Can I play now?’
Summer reflections before going back to the classroom.
The school year is over and many of us, teachers, are on holidays. We have been longing for a moment to relax by the beach under the warm summer sun. Clearing up our mind and recharging our batteries is a long process, and not always an easy one. You see, there are so many emotions, responsibilities and thinking involved in our daily lives during the whole year, that switching off can prove to be a real challenge. And, as usual, by the time we get to that point, it is already time to go back.
On the other hand, there is a part of every teacher that misses a little bit the creative mess of the classroom, the joyful (and loud!) voices of the children, and the excitement of a new year starting. As Teacher Tom mentioned ‘we are there for the little things’: to wipe up the crying tears because mommy has to go to work, to listen to all the weekend stories and share the excitement of an upcoming play date. At the end of the day, these little moments are worth all the trouble and fatigue! I am sure many of you will agree with me.
I am a preschool teacher too and at the moment, I’m also on holidays. The new school year will find me in a new school environment and, as I am in this transition phase, I find it even harder to switch my mind off. Organising the Joyful Festival of Education doesn’t help either. Don’t get me wrong though, I am not complaining at all! It is an exciting learning process that I am happy to be a part of. Self-reflection can be harsh sometimes, however, and there is so much inspiration, ideas and resources out there to read, implement or follow that it can feel overwhelming.
One of those things that I actively follow is the Fairy Dust Teaching community. A look at the website and the facebook page, and it will light up your curiosity. You will quickly find yourself wanting to read more. Inspired by the principles of Reggio approach and with the children at the centre of everything, the community has a lot to offer, whether it is ideas, advice, research or support to everyone who shares the same values. Personally I am passionate about Reggio approach and play-based education, and I believe in its power in positively influencing children’s holistic development. Such an inspiring community is exactly what want to create with our emJoy events.
My connection with the Fairy Dust Teaching community started with a short seminar related to play invitations. ‘Mastering Play Invitations’ lead by Sally Haughey, founder and CEO of the foundation, was a great introduction to the basics of play and its characteristics. Let’s have another moment of pure honesty here. So, my fellow preschool and kindergarten teachers out there, how many of you have heard comments about our profession that sound like ‘Oh! You also get tired? Why? You don’t do much all day. You just play with the children!’ or ‘Oh! That is so cute! You just let them play and you do nothing!’. These are just some examples but I am sure all of you can somewhat relate to these. I heard these interesting reactions to my profession more than once, and my usual answer is ‘I wish I was playing with the children the whole day!’.
The reason I called for that moment of honesty is related to why I want to know more about play, listen to expert educators talking about it, and backing it up with relevant and recent research and also, proving me why ‘I would wish to play more with the children’. Facing comments like the ones above, be it a joke or not, diminishes not only your contribution as a professional but the importance of play as well and that is something we should not let happen. While we increasingly hear about young children going through depression and anxiety when they have every right to be carefree and enjoy their childhood, we simply cannot close our ears to all those educators and researchers who are raising their voices to support play, wonder, joy and mindfulness. With all this in mind, this is why I need to know more about play. I need to be able to defend it. Not to make my job appear more important, but simply because I, we, care about our children’s wellbeing and emotional development.
Sally Haughey defines play as ‘a set of behaviours that are chosen freely, personally directed and intrinsically motivated’. If we define play in those terms what is the role of the educator? Here is where comes into play one of the most important points raised in the seminar: the educator’s role is to ‘observe and witness’. It might look like ‘you do nothing’ but in reality you are an educator-researcher who values children’s own ‘play urges’, facilitates and supports them in this without imposing your own adult views and beliefs. And that, if done correctly, can create magic! The children flourish and develop in their own terms, following their own motivation to play and engage with the environment and the people around them.
So, can I play now?