We were on the beach, a few plastic shovels and buckets strewn near our towels and umbrella, the perfect place for having fun. It was a spur of the moment trip to the water and we’d forgotten a ball or frisbee; the buckets and shovels had just been in the trunk. After an hour in the car, the kids were interested in doing more than sitting and digging, and following some beachside exploration and the requisite shell collection, they discovered a pine cone and its aeronautic capabilities.
Hearing them laugh, it seemed predestined, more fun than a football.
I sometimes see this spontaneity and unrestricted play a the middle school where I work. Students here handle their academics well, but still have a lot of little kid in them, and they find joy in laughing and playing.
Just this spring I’ve watched students enthusiastically practicing for our talent show, playing board games in our library at lunch, and (on a cold day last week) organizing a potluck in which a group of girls each brought food to share at their lunch table. The laughter from that table brought me over to see them putting aside a huge bowl of salad and getting ready to cut into a giant chocolate cake. Unexpected. Wonderful.
There is energy behind this positive play, and I see great teachers use it as wind in the sails of learning. Sometimes this means giving the kids choice in what they learn or how they show their understanding. Right now our school library is filled with student art and cardboard roller coasters that kids made in science class.
Sometimes teachers allow this sense of play to manifest itself in activities we bring to our student body. One of my favorite things to watch this spring was our playful ASB class working together to come up with games for Spirit Day. They didn’t use all the activities they thought about, but the experimentation was inspiring to see, young people trying out ideas together and having fun.
It is fun to learn to see the world and its possibilities in a little bit different way as we play and create together. Watching students come up with an improv scene in drama or fill the quad with hula hoops and laughter is a highlight of my job as a principal.
The only thing better is to have a chance to join in.
So, as that pine cone landed near me over the weekend, I didn’t hesitate at all when my daughter asked: “Dad, want to play?”