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All Work and no Play

Are book scrutinies more important than children having fun? Is a school’s appearance more important than play?

Cate Knight wonders how children have gotten to the point where they have forgotten how to pretend.

Interesting fact….
The Finnish system of education is rated as one of the most successful in the world.
By age 13 most learners are studying 4 languages. A gratifying 93% of students graduate high school. 66% of high school students go on to further education (thanks to @teacherofsci1 for the statistics!).
Would it surprise you to know then that Finnish Schools advocate for play right through to age 16 when learners may choose to leave education?!
In fact it might be said that the first 7 Years of a Finnish child’s life are SOLELY play orientated.
I recently worked in a school that detained learners at playtime if they didn’t demonstrate “enough” written work in their books. Please bare in mind that these young people were 7/8 years old. Learners were fixated on making books look “nice”. So much so that they didn’t engage well with material.
A teacher commented about a science experiment “even if you have to do it for them it’s better that they get something markable in their books”.
This was an outstanding school.
A school that removed essential social bonding time, exploring time and physical, outdoor play in the sunshine for a few more words on the page.
A school that would rather have neat write ups that engaged learners.
A school that would rather have fabricated experiment results that were copied in cursive than give their learners the full experience of the whole experiment.
I sat marking in 4 different colours thinking how I’d not had the opportunity that I usually have to laugh, tell silly jokes, impress them with accents, learn about their hamsters or talk about their little sister who has chicken pox. I was wrung out after one day. Not because of workload so much…. but because…. well…..
Where was the joy? The play?
I wish I could say that this was not normal in UK schools but I fear there are many who still do this and, clearly, ofsted endorse this approach.
I’m afraid I can’t. If the cost of education is a lost childhood with less exploring, less play and less fun in favour of full exercise books then I’m afraid I cannot justify that cost.
And I am someone who TRULY believes in the power of education.
Having been to Parklands Leeds recently and watched the amazing Chris Dyson and his staff bring fun and joy and playfulness to learning, I am convinced it is possible and the best approach for our young learners. Why should education be miserable? Who decided that? Why can’t it be giggly and silly and full of EXCITEMENT?!
If I walk into a school and the kids are actively STRESSED about their books then I’m worried. Where are the priorities in that school?
No child of 7 should think about handwriting more than they think about playing tag or “lets pretend”!!
What is truly sad is that I often find I am having to teach young people HOW to play. The natural, curious, imaginative, adventurous instinct has been lost for some. Can it be schools that are misplacing it? Surely not?!!
A few daft stories and a couple of “I wonders?” And the magic sparks again but that flame should not have been doused…
In fact I believe, with increasing determination, that it is a duty that educators keep it burning brightly: Keep the childish, playful, inquisitive, innovative light shining so that it lasts long into adulthood.
For what else are we meant to live for if not to be happy?

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The author

Cate has been a teacher for 20 years. She has worked internationally and across all key stages in the UK. Her secondary specialism is Performing Arts with a keen interest in PSHE/RSE. Cate is recently married with two cats who keep her busy and an allotment that requires more time than she can give it!

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