Democracy in Play

Children’s play is rich with wonderings and imagination.  At The Overfield School, we know that play is also full of opportunities for growth: testing, hypothesizing, discussion, negotiation and critical thinking. A tub full of Legos donated to our Kindergarten classroom provided just such an opportunity for play-based learning.  The children seized the chance to discover new pieces, delighting in the variety of offerings. Creativity abounded, and imagination was the only limit. 

But with the influx of new pieces, territorial conflicts arose.  How would the children decide who got to play with the most coveted pieces?  What rules would govern fair play?  Our teachers believe that children are capable of articulating the problems they encounter, brainstorming solutions, and enacting strategies to solve these issues.  Rather than establishing rules for the children, teachers supported the Kindergarteners in discussing how some children were keeping pieces in their own storage areas, thus preventing others from ever having use of these pieces.  The children brainstormed a few ways of solving this, and then voted on which strategy they favored.  These rules were written down by the children and posted for all to see. 

As the students negotiated these rules, they discussed concepts of fairness and equality.  They decided to vote democratically on the choice, and all agreed to be governed by the rules, even if their choice did not end up winning.  After the rules were enacted, children noticed that not everyone was following the rules; how, then, to make sure these rules were enforced?  They also observed that the rules as originally drafted did not have enough detail.  Thus, the rules were revisited and discussed, and modifications were made.

Through this whole process, the children increased their fine motor skills, tested their designs, counted and sorted pieces, and created narratives of play.  They also learned that fairness is essential and that everyone wants to have equal opportunities.  They saw the power of discussion and the importance of negotiation.  The benefits of democratically drafted and agreed upon rules became clear; the importance of being open to tweaking rules after seeing how they function in use was apparent.  Play is full of so many opportunities for learning, learning as broad and deep as we allow.  With our support, children can gain academic knowledge, practice higher level thinking skills, and continue to grow as our youngest citizens.    

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