Playing with Ideas

Over the summer, I read several books, articles, and other thought pieces that addressed the theme of social emotional learning (SEL). The increasing priority of SEL in schools is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which include meeting children where they are in their cognitive and moral development. Emerging from, or working within, a global pandemic only exacerbates this need.

The role of play in schools can sound childish (pun very much intended) upon first glance. In all schools, public and private, parents do not pay tuition or taxes for their child/ren to go down slides, climb ropes, and careen back and forth on the swings. If anything, play is framed as a break from the routinization of the school day; it’s a respite from adults teaching to them. But from a cognitive standpoint, it’s a chance to develop in ways even the latest app can’t deliver. Children learn how to navigate, negotiate, innovate, improvise, compromise, and organize. They begin the lifelong process of building relationships and planting the seeds of virtues that will inspire them to grow and reflect on what excites and motivates them. The physical, emotional, and social benefits of play are unparalleled. The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt is a proponent of letting kids play despite many of the fears that surround parents in today’s day and age. He argues that in overprotecting children, many parents unconsciously do more harm than good, projecting an image of fragility over resilience.

Playing with the idea of children getting outside more, letting go more as adults, and hoping we are making the best decisions for the safety and well-being of those entrusted in our care is no simple proposition. While we recognize the role of work in our lives this weekend during Labor Day, we should also honor the role of play in our lives and the lives of children. It’s an idea worth reconsidering again.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

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