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April 29, 2010

Vivian Paley: Culture and Play

Paley A reader recently commented on our blog and mentioned a writer and teacher I had not heard of before. Then, thanks to @FSSimon, I saw her name again - Vivian Paley. And I'm glad I did. Thank you, Fran, for introducing me to my new favorite education writer!
Her research, based on tape recording her students daily, provides a rare window into the minds of young children. She has called "play" the love of her life and her book, You Can’t Say You Can’t Play, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play, discusses how her students grasp to understand community and acceptance, and its opposite - exclusion. These are incredibly hard concepts to understand -  even for adults - and here she is discovering how children do it at 4 years old!

Paley has said, "Every species practices being young." Humans practice the same way other species do, with the added dimension of imaginative play. Children practice pretending to be someone else, somewhere else. They step outside of themselves and invent abstract thought. Children are inventing learning as they play with ideas.
"I am intended to have my own ideas," Paley says, speaking as one of her subjects in this video. "That's why I play the way I do, to show myself what my ideas are and how necessary I am to the community."

When our at-risk students come to Head Start, we don't have the luxury of time. In many circumstances, we are trying to pack three years of play into nine months of school. You can't do that and just play in a classroom. So we try to find balance and "teach" some basic readiness skills like recognizing letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and make our lessons as "fun" as possible. But there is a difference between play and fun. Play occurs in children naturally when they are ready, teaching happens when the teacher is ready, and it will never, ever be as powerful as a child "inventing learning" for themselves.

Image: https://www.curry.edu/Academics/Majors+Minors+and+Departments/Education/Features/Vivian+Paley.htm


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