Friday, March 9, 2012

Play Time = Practice Time

How many times have you felt frustrated from hearing yourself say over and over again:

"Work together please."
"Can you please get along."
"Stop fighting!"
"Don't hit!"
"Stop whining."
"Stop crying."
"No tattling"

How can we expect young children to behave the way we want them to when we are increasingly taking away their practice time!?
Practice time is being replaced with "structured" things like Circle Time, Table Time, Letter Time, Math Time, Movement Time, This Time and That Time.  (hopefully this is a HUGE exaggeration, and no one really has all those seperate "times" scheduled!!)

Practice time = PLAY TIME!!  Children learn valuable social and emotional skills when given AMPLE time to play.  Independent play and "cooperative" play are both beneficial to the social and emotional growth and development of young children.  The word "play" has gotten a bad wrap. Some believe play to be what happens when an early childhood professional doesn't feel like doing anything.  When in fact, it's when an early childhood professional is being the best at their job!  A good early childhood professional trusts in the value of play, and knows how to defend that stance!

Too often, parents, the "powers that be" and therefore, early childhood programs trying to please the afore mentioned, have put the wrong skills in the forefront.  Getting along with each other has been replaced by ABC's and 123's. Suddenly knowing what letters and numbers are has become more important then treating each other with respect. Knowing that apple starts with "A" has trumped patience and sharing.  Sadly, we spend more time making and reading words rather then using them to express ourselves. Children know more about how letters make words then they do about using words to handle conflict and solve problems.   Due to the lack of practice time, children whine, scream or hit to get their point across.

When is the last time a parent has bragged to you that their child can cooperate with other children?  Have you ever heard a parent gush over the fact that "Little Susie can compromise."?  Most parents  show pride in how "smart" their child is.  "Lizzie knows her ABC's!!"   "Our little Freddy can count to 10 in English AND Spanish!!"  Very few parents boast: "Look at how well my Georgie shares.  Did you see him give that little boy the ball?!" or  "Just look at how patient Lola is.  We are so proud of her and the way she gets along with others."

Fast forward to elementary school.  Due to the lack of practice time in the early years, and partially due to over-involved, afraid-to-let-children-solve-their-own-problems, tattle tail-bait-taking adults there is more crying, whining, tattling and hurting on playgrounds.  Young children need lots of practice at 1) solving problems 2) standing up for themselves 3) expressing their feelings in words and 4) cooperation and compromising.  Adults are stepping in during vital "practice time".  They are taking the bait (obliging tattlers) and solving problems for children.  They are stopping conflict before it happens (conflict gives us practice at solving problems!!).  They are providing too much equipment and thus avoiding arguments that may evolve over sharing.

By using "preventative classroom managment" we are limiting, and in extreme cases completely eliminating conflict.  Conflict gives children the opportunity to solve problems.  It's a great learning tool! Being too preventative produces children that can't handle difficult situations.  We are creating children that can't defend themselves with the power of words.  Children who need a teacher to solve their problems for them and children that cannot share or compromise. 

Let's face it....lack of practice time creates children who will have a hard time succeeding later in life. 

Early Childhood Professionals need to give children a large amount of quality playtime, they need to provide an environment condusive to playing, they need to butt out and allow children the space and freedom to practice social and emotional skills.  They need to let conflict happen.  Young children need to be empowered by their own problem solving skills.  They need to know the importance of the right words.  They need to know how to be caring, and thoughtful by sharing and taking turns.

Here is a scenario I just witnessed this morning during a nice long, 3 hour span of "practice time":
Ethan and Gavin are in the midst of arguing over the magnablox.  Gavin thinks they should
each have the same number of blocks.  Ethan does not.  Ethan said "I am never
going to play with you again!"  Gavin responded (cleverly) "Never?" pause
"Never, ever, ever?" pause  "Never...ever...ever...ever...EVER?"  At this point
Ethan is smiling and laughing, both boys are grinning and it is clear that
Ethan has learned from Gavin that he did not mean what he said. 

Notice how Gavin handled a potentially hurtful situation with humor?  He could have easily burst into tears and tattled on Ethan for saying "I'm never going to play with you again"  But he did not.  He had the confidence to use humor to make his friend think.  He remained calm, and did not fly off the handle. 

This photo was taken a few minutes after the previous
one.  Ethan had a rocket malfunction, so the boys are trying to fix it.
Gavin "found" a rocket piece (see the blue one in his hand?)  Notice the vein sticking
out on Ethan's neck?  HE IS ANGRY.  A few months ago he would have hit
Gavin.  BUT, because we have lots of practice time, Ethan firmly said "HEY!  That
came off of my rocket!!!"  Gavin knew he was right and grinned saying "I was just
teasing."  (whatever works to simmer the situation Gavin!)
It's important to note that three months ago, Ethan would have smacked Gavin in order to get the toy back. He then would have come over and tattled on him. Notice how he handled the situation in a very socially accepted way?
Vein popping anger is over, and the rocket is getting fixed.  Gavin practices being
patient as he waits for Ethan to finish the job.
The boys continued to play rockets and even added flames by shoving some paper up the open end of the rocket and coloring it orange and blue with markers.  Cooperative play, problem solving, patience, consideration, caring and nurturing (Gavin repeating what Ethan said:  "NEVER?") are all skills young children are capable of, and need the opportunity to practice
Here is another impressive scenario....this happened on "ramp day".   The children organized themselves.  I was busy walking around snapping photos of all of their cleverness.  I turned around and to my complete pleasure, this scene was all set!  Patience and taking turns is a VALUABLE social skill to master!!  We master skills by practicing them!  Practice time = play time!!!

The children patiently stood in lining, waiting their turn as each child
assisted with the end goal of filling the tube with balls....all the way to the top!

They were careful to include everyone who had helped
accomplish the goal when it was time to release the avalanche
of balls! 
Thoughtfulness, cooperation, compromise, patience, sharing and self regulation are FAR more essential skills than knowing that bat starts with "B".  Yes, literacy, math and science are all important...but for on-going success in school, teaching young children social skills is FAR more valuable!

Evaluate your program. 
Are the right skills in the forefront of your time together?
Are you emphasizing the valuable skills needed for life-long success, or are you being pressured into highlighting the "braggable skills"? 
Are you educating your parents regarding the life-long importance of social skills learned through play?

If you find yourself resorting to those warn out commands from the beginning of the blog, try to replace them with a few of my personal favorites:

"How are you going to solve this problem?" 
"You need to tell him/her how that made you feel."
"We can't understand whining. You will need to find another way to tell us what you are thinking."  "Thank you for telling me, but what do you think YOU should do about it?" 
"You need to tell him/her you were not done playing with that toy and you would like it back."

Once again, I leave you with one essential phrase not to be forgotten!:

PLAY  (aka: Practice Time) COUNTS!!