I have often read articles and heard many educators promote play as crucial for the overall development of a child. (The February issue of Teacher Plus also carried an article on ‘The Adaptive advantage of Play’ wherein the author dwelt on the developmental and educational benefits of play.) Play as quoted by many is essential for physical, mental, emotional, and social development of children and keeping children away from play hampers their development. These articles also encourage the use of play in everyday classroom situations without giving much thought to the challenges teachers experience in bringing ‘play’ into lesson plans and using play as an effective medium to teach a particular concept.
Play for me, and most others, is a free-willed, pleasurable activity which may or may not be organized and structured. Play is beyond the bounds of any extrinsic goals other than enjoyment and fun and is spontaneous and voluntary and when something is fun, the noise levels are high and the atmosphere is filled with sounds of excitement. This understanding of play is one of the main reasons why many teachers like me face this dilemma of how to introduce ‘play’ as a medium of learning in our daily class sessions. Under pressure to keep up the discipline in the classroom and keep the noise levels down, we take the easy way out, separate play from the teaching-learning process and restrict play as an activity to be engaged in after completion of work or during a separate time slot. The difficulty also arises due to space and time constraints. Space constraints are not only limited by classroom area, but also in the kind of furniture used and the environment in the classroom. The writing board facing twin desks cover almost the entire classroom leaving little space for free movement. The time taken to arrange and rearrange the furniture before and after class is time consuming and cumbersome too. The problem of time and space can be sorted through careful prior planning. Some ways to resolve this are: using break time to arrange classrooms or conducting the session in a different room or timing the rearrangement and seeking children’s help to rearrange it during the first and last five minutes of class.
The other challenge is in the dichotomy we face. On the one hand, there is the common notion that children need teacher direction and on the other hand, research that points out that self-initiated, free willed play provides the best learning context. This dichotomy can be sorted out through a marriage between free play and teacher intervention making ‘play in classrooms’ goal directed, organized, and structured. Keeping attuned to Vygotsky’s theory that children cannot create their reality in isolation but in the social context of capable peers and adults, the teacher can organize and structure play activities to facilitate goal defined learning and thereby keep the focus on constructing knowledge together instead of mere giving and receiving of knowledge.
The author is an education and social development consultant residing in Pune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.