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A Little Bit of Play goes a Long Way

Posted by on in Movement and Play
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Prior to the Thanksgiving Break our middle school kids' behavior was less than desirable in the lunchroom ... let's be honest ... there have been schools of piranha that had better lunch time etiquette than our middle school kids, but how much is their fault vs. the situation in which we have them placed? Our Admin took control of the situation and made some changes in the lunchroom the kids did not necessarily like, but it achieved the desired result ... better behavior and a cleaner lunchroom.

Did I mention the kids hate it?

So, I had an idea. What if I went to Admin and asked if I could pull some kids out of lunch (after they get their food) and bring them to my room and give them the gift of time? Time to play on the computers ... hangout on the couch ... go outside and play soccer, toss the football around, or even play tag ... YES, I actually saw 6th grade students chasing each other. Why? Because they could. It was strange.

The kids I pulled on Monday had no idea what was happening as they were ushered out of the lunchroom, many with trays in hand asking what was happening. Once arriving in my class they were more confused as I just let them be ... they asked ... "What are we doing?" My response, "Whatever you want." Finish eating. Play on the computer. Talk with your friends. Go play some ball. When Tuesday rolled around word had spread and the kids were eager to be part of the "Great Lunch Escape".

It is amazing how the attitude of the kids changed. I was not telling them what to do or how to do it. Oddly they managed to put together a quick 5 on 5 football game, while another 8 kids had the soccer ball kicking it around all without being told how to do so. How could this happen. The power of play. These kids managed to select equal teams an create the rules without direct adult supervision. When the bell rang they all came to my room and picked up their things and went to class ... without being asked. I thanked them for coming so quickly ... they thanked me for saving them from lunchroom lockdown. Truth be told ... I was happy to see them just being kids ... playing.

At this point in the blog I could claim my rationale for doing all of this was altruistic and I was just doing it for the kids, but if I played that card, I would be lying. The reality is I have quickly realized these kids will do anything for these 15 minutes of play ... even complete classwork and listen to instructions. Today was amazing ... for the small sacrifice of 15 minutes of my lunch I was able to get kids to work more efficiently during class and self correct in every class period. Yes, I wanted to reach out and give the kids something to look forward to, but I never expected this to alter their classroom behavior this much.

Giving the kids an opportunity to play has changed those kids ... at least for now, but I am hopeful this trend will continue. All the kids wanted was some time. Time to be kids ... Is that so bad?

I would love to hear what you have to say about play.

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Dennis Dill is a Social Studies and Instructional Television teacher at Jewett School of the Arts, a STEAM PreK - 8th grade school, in Winter Haven, Florida. Dennis earned a BA in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences from the University of South Florida and an MS in Education Media Design and Technology from FullSail University. Dennis has been teaching for 14 years.

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Guest Wednesday, 26 October 2016