Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Even Tidy Teachers Should Make Room for Messy Play Sometimes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Even Tidy Teachers Should Make Room for Messy Play Sometimes

Article excerpt

'I don't like messay play!'

My colleague, Mary, was lamenting during the planning stages of a very "messy" three-day simulation experience for our middle school. The project would be anything but "business as usual." It involved cross-grade groupings of kids and adults, spontaneous response to situations, no apparent schedule, 1,500 square feet of recycled cardboard, and 17 gallons of Elmer's glue.

Our school would be building a box girder bridge from cardboard. Students would simulate the banks and the manufacturing, trucking, and design companies required by such a public-works project. It would be creative, intense, "multiply intelligent" - but very messy.

"I've always liked nice, tidy plans," said Mary, surveying what I viewed as wonderful mayhem in the lunch room. "I wasn't even fond of my own kids playing in the sandbox." It was an honest, generous admission that I imagine to be typical of a lot of teachers. A very creative, experienced teacher, Mary was being a good sport, going along with the project despite her discomfort. She assumed a tidy role: supervising a bank. Given the circumstances, she did a wonderful job.

In contrast to Mary, I like improvisation. I like unconventional learning activities. I like messy play. And one would think that most middle-school kids have a similar penchant for chaos, given their reputation for discombobulation.

However, we found that kids are quite conservative and set in their patterns of behavior. And that's one reason to throw caution to the wind and change the rules of school every so often. Learning needs to give children encounters with unfamiliar tasks.

In our bridge-building simulation, the kids who functioned extremely well in a predictable, linear schedule of classes were clearly "outside of their comfort zone." And many students whose energy was less engaged during "normal" school - for whom normal school was outside of their comfort zone - came to the fore. …

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