Sarah Pope is the publications editor for the Arbor Center for Teaching. The ACT is a non-profit organization created to train teachers in the educational philosophy of the Arbor School of Arts & Sciences, an independent elementary school in Tualatin serving grades K-8 in mixed-age classes. ACT apprentices teach alongside master teachers for two years while they earn MAT’s and licenses. The ACT’s mission also includes offering guidance to school leaders and publishing material underpinning the Arbor School curriculum, which is designed to foster active engagement in learning, concrete experiences, and interdisciplinary work. For more information on the Arbor Center for Teaching, please visit arborcenterforteaching.org. We are currently accepting applications for the 2012-14 cohort of apprentices.
Play at school conjures images of raucous playgrounds, of children freed from the constraints of the classroom for twenty minutes of exuberant, noisy fun to burn off steam so they can return to the important work of learning with fewer fidgets and greater focus. Recess is a necessary period of release during the school day, of course. But the faculty at Arbor School in Tualatin recently devoted some energy to considering the ways in which play is embedded in all that we teach in grades K-8. We find that when we bring play into the classroom it provides a means to push for greater depth in students’ development of intellect, character, and creativity. Play in the service of rigorous thinking, of developing the mastery and imagination necessary to improvise and innovate, and of making us better humans permeates our teaching from mathematics to music.
We collected our thoughts in a new issue of Cambium, our free journal of K-8 curriculum and pedagogy, which you can download here. In these 16 pages, Leigh Wood writes about her P.E. course as a vehicle not only for the inculcation of sportsmanship and fair play but for assessment of a child’s developing character, confidence, and care for others. Even the unbridled fun of Capture the Flag can provide useful insights to the observant teacher: if most of Sophie’s team is in Jail, will she try to rescue teammates or focus on the personal glory of stealing the flag? Does she content herself with an easy tag or challenge herself to catch a faster runner? Musical games, in the hands of Laura Frizzell, become a means to deepen creativity, both individually and collaboratively. Games that require each participant to improvise a contribution are a safe way to practice taking a brief turn in the spotlight, too. Cara VanGorder-Lasof and the Senior Humanities team use role-playing to lead students to the heart of curricular content, allowing them to more fully understand the factors involved in the rise of the first human cities or the American civil rights movement. And the exercise in empathy when one strives to assume another’s perspective reaps rewards beyond cementing content knowledge. Daniel Shaw uses logical analysis of Tic-Tac-Toe strategy to bring his young students into contact with some very advanced ideas in mathematics and to help them form habits of clear thinking and communication that will forward their work in every discipline. Lori Pressman has researched the neurological importance of play as well as its social benefits; in her K-1 classroom free, unstructured, imaginative play sparks the synthesis of knowledge about whales, Pilgrims, or human anatomy.
We invite you to join us in a conversation about bringing well-planned games into the curriculum as well as considering the merits of unstructured play. If you have specific questions for any of the teachers who have contributed to our journal, or if you would like to receive future issues by email, please contact us at email@example.com.