Sunday, 12 May 2019

Play, Learning & Fun: Why Schools Are Different!

"We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing."  
- George Bernard Shaw

This past week we held our annual 'Welcome to Kindergarten' Open House for parents of incoming Kindergarten students in the fall. It is always so much fun to welcome new families to our school, and I was reminded again that we present quite differently as a school than the schools the parents of our incoming Kindie students likely attended.

Usually when people visit our school for the first time, we get a lot of comments about how different our school looks from when parents (or grandparents!) went to school, or many questions about how students learn without desks, what our Maker Space has to do with learning, why the climbing wall isn't in the gym.  We get a lot of questions about being organized as a multi-age groupings school, and about co-teaching in multiple classrooms and why our Learning Commons doesn't use the Dewey decimal system to organize our resources - how can children ever find what they are looking for, adults wonder, if the whole place is genrified? What does genrified even mean?  We don't get these questions from children - these are questions that come from adults. The children are pretty busy getting stuff done all over the school, but the questions asked by adults are good questions that we are happy to answer!

The things we get asked about are the visible differences between this school and what adults have traditionally thought of as 'school'. But school should be different than it was 5, 10, 15 years ago - so many things have changed it is critical that schools change too, just enough to ensure our children are ready for whatever the world may offer as they progress through their years of formal learning. Most of us don't go back to elementary schools very often between the time we leave them as students and when our own children begin Kindergarten, so I would be more taken aback if parents said we reminded them of their schools growing up, to be honest - nowhere else looks exactly the same as it did years ago - not even our homes where digital rules the roost!  What I hope the adults we talk to about our school take away, however, is the understanding that learning happens all the time, everywhere, for children when curiosity, relationships and investigation are encouraged, fostered and become the reason to go to school.  My favourite question arises when someone says, "It all looks like so much fun - when do kids learn?" 

All the time, friend, kids learn all the time! 

Yes, this looks like fun - learning is fun!! Yes, this looks like play - play fosters learning!!  And, yes, we believe school should be a place where learning looks like play and is fun. Actually, we think all three terms - learning, play, fun - should be interchangeable anytime we are talking about schools and children:)

I was reminded of this on Friday at one of our Peace Assemblies - Peace Assemblies are a lot of hard work that kids take very seriously. Children want to share their best work with parents and peers when they present their classrooms' work in Peace Assemblies. Twice a year, each learning Pod is expected to share their learning at a Peace Assembly.  These are scheduled approximately every second or third Friday morning, always at 11:00 am, an hour before early dismissal. Peace Assemblies require the students and teachers to consider what they are learning, how they will share that successfully with their families and peers, and then get to work making it happen. Often they take a sharing format that includes MCs, speakers, student-created videos, artwork, music, dance, writing, reading, mathematical thinking, etc. but we have also had Peace Assemblies that were Open House style events where students celebrated their learning in a less formal arrangement and also shared videos, artwork, music, dance, drama, writing, reading, mathematical thinking, etc. What happens in Peace Assemblies utilizes design thinking with even our youngest students to help them use the tools in their Learners' Toolkits to represent and shape the sharing of what they are learning. Nothing is expected to be perfect - design thinking is generous in recognizing every prototype can be re-shaped as needed - and learning is always a work-in-progress. When a learning Pod offers their work to be shared with parents and peers, it is a heartfelt offering of their learning through play and fun - they test and try and practice and re-shape right up to the last minute, guided and encouraged by teachers who have travelled the learning journey with them. And, as we share in their beautiful work, we appreciate, value and are grateful for the hard thinking, the multiple tries, the collaboration, negotiation and compromise, the idea generation and research and heavy toll that pushes their learning to expand constantly from curiosity and investigation and building relationships. This is learning at it's best, when it is done in the spirit of play and fun together with others on a similar yet somewhat unique learning journey. We will not find perfectly formed, cookie-cutter projects or repetitions of work when learning comes from the collaborative work that nudges every student to work a little harder, think a bit differently and know they are showcasing new understandings they truly appreciate conceptually together.  

Play, fun and learning happen when people come together in relationships and, as only humans can, encourage each other by our presence to be better - kinder, more generous in spirit, to try a new thing without fear or judgment. This is what we are aiming for in schools - learning is not a competition but a collaboration, a meeting of minds that leads all of us towards a future we haven't imagined yet. And it does look and sound different than it did a few - or many - years ago. As it should!

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal