There’s a lot of questioning now about “The Future of Education”. But the answer is simple: The Future of Education is Play.
I get a lot of emails from people all around the world about Child’s Play Music. But this one touched a chord with me, because it’s about the Future of Play-Based Learning. And to me that means it’s about the Future of Education, period.
It’s from Malissa Carey, a 20 year old student from Kansas, who is now studying at Concordia University. Let me quote from the email and you’ll see why it means so much to me.
My name is Malissa Carey. I am from Princeton, Kansas but I attend school at Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska. I stumbled upon your website and have fallen in LOVE with your program. I am double majoring in Early Childhood and Special Education and will continue to get my Masters in Music Therapy and hopefully a Doctorate. I would love to get to experience one of your classes but I don’t think that will ever get to happen, at least not in the near future. I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate what you are doing and how much I want to base my future classroom like what you have! I am so very passionate about children’s learning through play. In a time where most teachers are worried about teaching to the test and hitting standards it’s refreshing to be able to just experience play and something that God intended us to do… to just live. Anyway, now that I have ranted and raved about how much I love what you’re doing I just want to simply say, THANK YOU! Sincerely, Malissa Carey.
Now, it’s lovely that Malissa likes Child’s Play Music so much – I’m honoured and, indeed, humbled. But what struck me most was Malissa’s passion for play-based learning.
I am so very passionate about children’s learning through play … it’s refreshing to be able to just experience play and something that God intended us to do… to just live.
I know only too well that play-based learning is under serious threat in the US (and to a lesser extent here in Australia too). As Malissa says, we are living “in a time where most teachers are worried about teaching to the test and hitting standards”.
[NOTE: just roll your mouse over the images for more information]
Image source: Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning
And that is a tragedy. When play goes, learning goes. We have over 100 years of solid research that shows that the natural way for young children to learn is through play [PDF, 573KB]. When worksheets, deskwork and standardised testing replace play we are harming children; when we cut or eliminate recess we are harming children; when we give them ever-increasing quantities of homework we are harming children – and the research cited above shows that the harm can be life-long.
Not “Play is something that can add to the ‘real’ learning that happens in chairs and desks in the classroom”.
Not “Play is a way for children to let off steam between the ‘real’ learning that happens from worksheets and sorting trays”.
Image source: Precious Childhood
Image source: Flights of Whimsy
Play MUST happen BEFORE learning can occur.
Because play IS the real learning. And play – real play – is freely chosen and child-led. It is NOT imposed by adults. Adults can support play, they can provide a rich environment for play, they can extend play, they can model ways of playing, but the minute they impose play it stops being PLAY – and it becomes WORK.
That’s why my Child’s Play Music programs focus on child-led play. I give children almost complete freedom to play with my instruments as they like. I provide only the most minimal guidance as to how to play the instruments – just enough to get them started. And then I stand back and let the children explore the instruments.
And they always amaze me. They come up with ways of playing them I would never have thought of. And because I don’t teach them how to play the instruments they teach themselves – because free play is the greatest teaching method for young children.
My program is definitely play-focused and child-led, but there’s also room for slightly more structured music activities – so long as you keep one thing in mind: FREE PLAY MUST ALWAYS COME FIRST! (Sorry about the ALL CAPS, but it really is that important!)
In my own programs I always begin with totally free, unstructured, child-led play – but that doesn’t mean you can’t scaffold their play by introducing new ideas and techniques. You don’t even have to think of it as ‘teaching’; merely modelling a different playing technique can be more than enough to spark children’s ideas.
I often play drums with very young children (say 2-5) and their natural tendency is to whack with the two drumsticks as hard as they can, hitting together with both sticks on one drum. Because it’s FUN! But when I play a simple rhythm with alternating sticks or simple patterns of alternating drums the children pick up on it immediately and make it their own.
They may not play exactly what I play, but they take the idea and experiment with it in their own way. And that is the power of play too – because play is the way that children learn, they will take anything and everything they see and hear and experience and make it their own.
I don’t think of this as ‘teaching’ because I’m not saying “hey, if you hit this drum once then that drum twice, and then pause, and then repeat that pattern we can all play Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You!” I could do it, but then it wouldn’t be play, it would be teaching. My moment of joy comes when the child spontaneously discovers the ‘We Will Rock You” rhythm for themselves – and they do, through play, and the look of pride on their face says it all.
Enough about what I do – here’s some more of what Malissa said in a later email:
I am very interested in starting something that has the ability to change minds on how people think about children and their learning. Being able to change the hearts and minds of children and what people think of education is actually one of my passions in being on this earth. I know I am only 20 but there are a lot of things I would really like to accomplish in this world. I care so much about children and how they are learning and what is going on in their worlds. I want to make a bigger difference … Personally, I cannot pinpoint a specific area that I want to teach because I love all areas of education and wish I could teach everything, but I am open to wherever God wants to lead me, and I feel that open to God’s calling is the best way to be.
Now that is inspiring! “Being able to change the hearts and minds of children and what people think of education is actually one of my passions in being on this earth … I care so much about children and how they are learning and what is going on in their worlds. I want to make a bigger difference”.
Image credits: Malissa Carey
Malissa, you may be only 20, but it’s people like you – young people with passion and fire and determination – who will be changing the world. You and your peers are the next generation of educators. It’s you and others like you who can make sure that play is where it ought to be: at the centre, the core, the living heart of education.
And if you can do it and keep that fire and passion then it’s not just education that will be improved: it’s the lives of the children you will educate. You CAN make a difference and the difference is vital. Because the future of education is not worksheets, more deskwork, less recess, extra homework and standardised testing:
The Future of Education is Play.
Image source: let the children play