Defining Play in the Classroom

When one thinks of play in the classroom, one probably imagines this:

This is actually my daughter playing at the Light Table at the Ontario Science Centre, but you get the gist.

Which, at least in my mind, generally includes:

  • Younger children;
  • Blocks, toys, and other items being used at the child’s digression;
  • The children are leading the play (and a teacher may be recording and observing the play for assessment purposes).

What you generally don’t see in the Junior classroom is this same level of choice in play.  Yes, you will see students playing games, whether games like Set, or online interactive games – and there is choice, there is generally an ultimate purpose:  A mathematical fact or concept that the game is being used to practice.

I am all for this – however, I was wondering, and what started this whole play in math idea, is if that same level of freedom on their play; the play would be the freedom and the driving force or catalyst for the math.

In my mind, here is where the focused and purposeful learning would happen:  By observing, and entering the play, and then challenging the thinking.  Sure, I run the risk of connections not being directly made to the math, but, I do hope that the play, that freedom and immersion, will lead to questions; to inquiries.  My job as an educator would be to find and rephrase the potential mathematics.

“So, what I am hearing you say is that you are wondering about…”

When I look up the definition of play, I find:

Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 8.42.29 PM

However, for the purposes of school, perhaps we can add that challenge piece.  Ideally, the play would start out as recreational, and chosen by the child, but the challenges can be built, and the learning can connect.  Again, the play, in my case, is the catalyst for the conceptual learning.

So, perhaps I need to change the definition to fit education, and math:

Play in the Junior Classroom:

Engagement in a potential academically rigorous task that has the potential to catalyst (mathematical) concepts, and aid in the development of rich learning connections.




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