I opened cabinets and looked on shelves in the bedrooms of my boys. I was hunting for loose parts. I needed the loose parts to play with during my small group section of the Pre-K institute. It was day 2. It was my first time teaching the pre-K institute and I was nervous. I felt like a fraud because I had only done small bits of pre-K work with my schools but I also knew that if there was any day I could succeed at it could be a day devoted to play.
Most days feel like play to me already. I try to model play and playfulness all of the time when I am teaching. I found some old beads that my boys once loved. I found two different kinds of hair curlers that I used when my hair was much longer. I knew Jimmy had cups of screws and washers and bolts that I might add to my loose part collection. I had saved some toilet paper tubes and masking tape seemed like a good idea. I piled all of these things into a cloth basket that sat empty in my work closet.
However, as the part of the morning approached where I was supposed to facilitate play workshop, I found myself losing faith. Maybe I would just talk about play workshop and not ask teachers to practice play workshop themselves by… playing. Just before I gave up on doing, I reminded myself that trying and doing is almost always the only way to change things for real. So… play workshop.
Some break out rooms of teachers, each with their own collection of loose parts, played collaboratively even though they were each in their own virtual rectangle and in real life even more apart than that. In one room, a teacher in Brazil made a bird out of some paper clips and a strip of t-shirt. Another teacher in Colombia, used a mix of Spanish and English to describe the parts of his lizard. A teacher in Brooklyn, made a peacock with strips of ripped paper for feathers. And, one teacher from Ohio, struggled to figure out how she might make a stethoscope so that she could give each of the animals a check up. The others were saying, “Hold up what you have. We can help you think about what you might do.” And then, “Try that piece. What do you think? Could that work? Wait, try that other thing, that pink thing. Maybe that works better.”
In other rooms, teachers were not playing. They sat talking about play. Still trying to learn and grow as professionals but they were not playing. The doubt returned for me. “See,” I thought, “it is not working.” I was ready to push the close breakout rooms button, when it hit me. Maybe they did not know how to play. Maybe they needed a play mentor. I said, “Hey. Are you making a playground?” They all looked at me. “I have this table totter thing that I have been working on that kids can build and then tilt and then fall from and then rebuild.” I shared my screen so that they could watch.
There were many seconds of quiet and I thought about pushing the leave breakout room button again and then, suddenly, “I made this pond place where kids can walk and collect beautiful rocks for our park.” She shared her screen and there it was. A blue cloth spread across her table and tiny rocks sprinkled across her “pond”.
We were doing play then. Doing. It. That means that teachers would probably be more likely to do it. Play. Maybe we all just need a play mentor.
May we all find one.
I’m here if you need me.