Continuing play-based learning into the upper grades

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Bilingual schooling, STEM projects, coding, longer recess, shorter recess, more gym time, less gym time, increased academics, (starting students earlier, holding students back), more free play, less free play, outdoor free play, structured free play, etc… It can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate the best course of education to pursue for your child in this day and age. With more opportunity and choice, comes greater responsibility for parents in making the best decisions for their child’s education.

One of the things I love most about teaching in a small, faith-based independent school, is the freedom to pursue areas that are not governed or restricted by one body. The flexibility afforded me to implement strategies and activities that make sense for the development of the whole child is paramount.

Two areas in particular that I am passionate about are the importance of play in the primary grades, and the pursuit, implementation, and encouragement of The Arts in all elementary grades. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education states, “If a child has been able in his play to give up his whole loving being to the world around him, he will be able, in the serious tasks of later life, to devote himself with confidence and power to the service of the world.” Further, it is first through this creative play that a child begins to develop his sense of self in the world.

Grade 1&2 students playing and engaging in their outdoor learning centre

As more educators see the benefits of creative and imaginative play, more call for extending this during class time has grown. Outdoor education, particularly that which utilizes natural wood structures and other earth elements allows the child’s natural inquisitive wonder about the world around him to develop and has grown widely in popularity.

So what is creative play in the upper grades? In my opinion, it is the Arts.

Without a doubt, given the landscape of jobs and opportunities for graduating students, it is clear young children need a strong base in maths and sciences. That is a given. However, the skills the Arts provide students are equally important, allowing for the essential need for self-expression, and creativity. As communication is a vital skill, needed in every occupation or vocation later in life, teaching the child strong communication skills through musical, dramatic, and visual arts, supports his development and place in the world.

“An arts education helps build academic skills and increase academic performance, while also providing alternative opportunities to reward the skills of children who learn differently.” – Gavin Newson.

I love to watch the growth of a child, who may be paralysed onstage in front of others one year, and then takes on the lead role and nails it the next year, stepping out of his comfort zone to try something new; or a struggling reader who memorizes his lines and executes them perfectly the day of, brimming with newfound confidence. Exposure to the Arts gives the child a more balanced base from which to learn about the world around him, active participation in the Arts, gives him the chance to glimpse his full potential.

“The quality of civilization can be measured through its music, dance, drama, architecture, visual art, and literature. We must give our children knowledge and understanding of civilization’s most profound works.” – Ernest L. Boyer

Written by Nina Riepert – Grade 3/4 teacher
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