Play, in Translation

When I tell people that I teach Kindergarten, most people respond by saying, "Oh, that must be so fun!" "Oh, the kids must be so cute!" "Oh, you're so lucky, you just have to play all day."

All of that is true. I am lucky. I really love my job. And, for the most part, it is fun, my students are (so!) cute, and we all do a lot of playing.

But for a while there I felt like I needed to respond to those comments by saying something like, "Yeah, but...": "Yeah, but, my job isn't just fun." "Yeah, but, the kids aren't just cute." "Yeah, but, we don't just play." I felt like I needed to defend myself from some (phantom?) implied suggestion that anyone could do my job, and the kids from being seen in such a two-dimensional way. Most of all I felt like I needed to defend play itself from always being preceded by the word "just".

That defensive feeling has eased a bit for me recently. I've remembered that before I taught Kindergarten, I also thought of play as "just play", and at first I actually had twinges of guilt when I let my students play freely for extended periods of time because I wasn't sure I was really doing my job. I felt like if they weren't counting every acorn, or isolating the initial sounds of every word for every thing around us, or practicing writing letters with sticks in the dirt then my students weren't learning. I've come to realize that I didn't really trust in the value of play because I couldn't yet see all of what was really going on. I couldn't yet decode all of the learning that was happening while my students were running around in the woods.

And that in itself has been a major epiphany for me: play, and my role in it, doesn't need to be defended. It needs to be translated. I needed to learn to see play differently - to decode it, to read it - in order to understand it and come to value it. Maybe other people do, too. I now understand that a major part of my job as an Outdoor Kindergarten teacher - a teacher in a program that is play-based - is to uncover, discern, unravel (and then extend) the meaning of the play I witness and participate in for myself, for and with my co-teacher, and for and with our students. Equally importantly, I need to translate the meaning of play to parents, prospective parents, colleagues, and the community at large, in order that we might all come to value it more.

Play as a language (as one of the hundred languages of children, in the Reggio experience?) and teaching as translation...I'm excited!