Hey–come closer. A little closer. I have to tell you something. Ready? I teach 3rd graders and we have choice time in our class. Yep. Maybe every day. And they love it.
I know that to some (many?) people that is a controversial statement. To some (many?) 3rd grade marks a change in school. This is the year when kids are supposed to get serious. They’re supposed to have moved on past the play time and ease of primary grades and be ready now for real school, where they should be expected to sit still and work silently (often in a desk), have lots of homework and get ready for middle school (oh man, don’t even get me started about that statement….maybe more on that later…). Gone are the days of games and free time and arts and crafts. Now is the time for work.
While I am by no means an expert on third grade or third graders, I have spent a lot of time in a classroom and have taught grades on both sides of it, so I know some of how parents and teachers alike expect third grade to go. I’m going to suggest there’s another way to do it. A way that values both play and learning, as play IS a way children learn.
If you Google “quotes on play” you can sit for hours and go through all sorts of things that people say about play. Here are just a few:
As an early childhood educator, I was taught–and firmly believe–that children are the crafters of their learning and my job is one of a facilitator. I provide the opportunities and invitations, and kiddos do the thinking and discovering as they figure things out and own their knowledge. Yes, there are times when you have to give them information, but more often than not, leading them there and having them find out things for themselves is the best way. The more they do for themselves, the more they remember and the more ownership they take. Also, it’s way more fun to figure things out than to always have the adults around you be the experts telling you all the things.
Why do I even mention this? Because like I mentioned before, people find choice time–or art, LEGOs, games, building, recess–to be a no-no for older kiddos. I need you to know that this is an expectation in my classroom, and we will work hard through play, choice and fun.
Especially at the beginning of the year, unstructured time with new people in a new classroom is crucial–both for students and for me. As I give them time to make choices of what to do and who to work (play) with, I am learning as much as them. I can get info on who they work well with (and who they don’t!); what they do when they are frustrated; what makes them happy; what they enjoy doing; how long they can stay engaged with an activity; what they know about problem-solving, creativity and figuring out what to do on their own; how well they clean up after themselves (or don’t LOL); more about their language skills; and countless other things. They can learn about their friends, meet new ones, relieve stress, create things, learn a new game or skill, become comfortable in our classroom and of course, it’s FUN! I honestly do not know what I would do in my classroom if there was not time or room for kids to play. It’s good for all parts of them, and it’s good for me, too. Some of the best conversations I have had with kids have come during unstructured time in our room when they don’t feel pressure to be “on” or like I’m expecting something from them. They are at ease and are often more likely to share things that then help me in future interactions with them as learners.
I look forward to the ways we will play and learn together, and how I can encourage kiddos to do new and hard things by presenting the challenges to them in a fun, welcoming way. Sharing my own stories of play are important, too. I’m sure we will make mistakes, get messy and learn a TON together. Hope you are along for the ride!
Tell us, what is your favorite way to play? Leave a comment and we’ll be sure to respond soon! 🙂