Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

All Rigor and No Play Is No Way to Improve Learning

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

All Rigor and No Play Is No Way to Improve Learning

Article excerpt

The Common Core's higher academic standards are forcing schools into a false dichotomy of reducing playtime in favor of more time to learn math and literacy. But play can deepen learning even in core content areas.

Play is losing to rigor in American classrooms as more and more structured reading and math replaces traditional playtime, thanks in large part to pressure to meet the Common Core State Standards. Young children, in particular, are losing out because this increasing standardization of the curriculum restricts the variety of ways they could and should be learning.

At the heart of this zero-sum game are assumptions that rigorous content requires work, while play is frivolous. Thus, play in schools is increasingly detached from academic content, serving as a nice-but-not-necessary add-on that makes schoolwork more palatable or as a reward for good behavior or time on task (Murray & Ramstetter, 2013). In this climate, children must wait to engage in the learning that is most meaningful to them: play. Once school lets out, the luckiest few participate in interest-driven, after-school programs such as Makerspaces, museums, and library workshops (Peppler, 2014). Such programs often feature apps, virtual worlds, and video games with new technologies highly relevant to children's out-of-school lives and deeply connected to high-quality learning outcomes.

We need to update early childhood curricula to better use intuitive new technologies. Early childhood professional organizations are calling for more expansive and responsive approaches that address the changing needs and potentials of learners. Increasingly, parents are opting out and early childhood educators are pushing back against standards-driven, high-stakes tests with their consequent stunted learning, arguing for engaging play-based curriculum that's rigorous, technologically relevant, and collaborative. We argue for a path forward that rejects familiar binaries of work vs. play and old vs. new technologies and that follows the children's lead by asking:

* What are children able to do when we expand learning to include dolls and books, digital cameras as well as paper and pencils, and Play-Doh[R] as well as science experiments?

* What happens when we dismiss the supposed oppositional relationship between imaginative play and rigorous standards?

* Is it possible to rethink our ideas about play and rigor to design and facilitate expanded learning, where play, collaboration, and arts are on equal footing with science and technology?


Playshops are a curricular model we developed to encourage playful and collaborative learning as well as the rigorous learning that the Common Core standards hope to inspire. Each playshop features different combinations of literacy, arts, sciences, or technology. For example, one literacy playshop supports children as they use digital cameras to create live-action videos of their own versions of their favorite media characters such as Disney princesses or Transformers. Another example, a design playshop, lets children learn electronics concepts by decorating and crafting a Play-Doh circuit that will actually light colorful light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Future playshops will allow children to animate toys as avatars in games they design. At their core, playshops build on the strengths of young children and their teachers: children's expertise in collaborative dramatic play capitalizes on their everyday knowledge and early childhood teachers' expertise in providing play-based learning. We avoid positioning arts, play, or craft making in the service of literacy, math, or science. Rather, they interact and deepen one another.

While most makerspaces are in out-of-school settings, we work with teachers to bring playshops to school, making room in the curriculum by integrating play and technology with other subjects. Karen Wohlwend began partnering with kindergarten teachers in 2005 to develop and implement literacy playshops on filmmaking and children's media. …

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