My dad and sister visited over the July 4th weekend. When I was at the grocery store picking up supplies for grilling, I was meandering through the toy aisle searching out things to keep people occupied. We have a pool, and everyone will want to hangout by it, but as great as water is, it gets boring, eventually. My eye was caught by some outdoorsy games; GIANT dice, checkers, and… dominoes. I brought home one of the giant wooden domino sets. There was only 28 pieces in the set, but maybe we could figure out the game, together.
July 4th was a blast… literally, what with all of the fireworks and everything! But, the next day was much slower, and it slowed all the way down to “needing something to do”, so much so that I actually got out the giant domino game. There was the tiniest slip of paper under the huge wooden tiles that had the most basic instructions I have ever read. It was my dad, Scarlet, and I working on playing the game, and after giving it a go, we realized we needed more instruction. Other than setting the pieces up to tumble into one another, I don’t have any experience with dominoes.
We watched a Youtube video. It introduced some terms, like dominoes can be referred to as “Bones”, and the pile of extras would be the “Boneyard”. The instructions for play were either not elaborate enough or too complex. I thought this was supposed to be a pretty easy game! I had secretly hoped to bring the giant game pieces into my classroom to use instructionally.
Finally, we found a guy on Youtube who had been in the same boat we found ourselves. He had done some legwork in researching how to play dominoes and put together a very helpful video explaining it for dummies like us. The video is totally awesome, and I recommend you watch it, even if only to see the Weird Al Action Figure play against the videographer! Hilarious.
I’m not going to get into the game of dominoes here. I still need to do more learning and practice. Suffice to say, it seems to supercede all expectations of being able to use in the classroom. You can play with more than just two kids. It is simple enough, combining like numbers, but also strategic: It helps to plan which bones to use in what order. There is a lot of adding and even multiplication/division! But, believe it or not, you don’t actually multiply or divide, so it is perfect for planting the seeds for those future concepts: You have to identify “multiples of five”.
I leave you with this idea: I have been thinking about using Gamification in my classroom, because “everybody (seems to be) doing it”, and I like making school maximum fun! Through exploring articles and thinking about what I want to get out of the school year, however, it looks like “Playification” is more my speed. When I teach a lesson, I present a problem, and then students use what they know to figure out a solution. We then discuss additional possible solutions and ways to get to them. Finally, I let students “play around” with the ideas. “Try using it in a unique way,” you might hear me say, if you were walking by my classroom.
So, more than turning everything into a point system or changing pedagogy into games, I am leaning more toward using games to help my students “play more”. You can cheat a game. The only thing you cheat when “playing” is yourself.
For years I’ve let my students bring in a snack, but I usually have them eat it while working. I tried that this year, but quickly realized that this wasn’t going to work.
Because of an early lunch, my students and I have a very long afternoon. Our math time is from 11:30 to 12:30. Then I have Language Arts time until 2:25, when Special time begins. So, I have students for about three solid hours!
I never even considered playtime before. I figured, that’s what recess was for. But, a class I am taking from Kutztown U changed my mind. During snack time, I have introduced our classroom makerspace. I am calling it playtime, but the idea is that students will be involved in creative creating or building.
Students will take a break from formal learning every afternoon post Math time and prior to Language Arts learning (12:30-12:50, approximately), in order to creatively construct things with a variety of toys and tools, while snacking.
Philosophy: Hybrid of “Open Space” (self-driven) and “Workshops” (learning/practice time)
Merriam Webster defines playtime as “a time for play or diversion” (n.d.). The very first time I introduced this idea, I talked all about the concept and went over the parameters or policies prior to math time. Then during math we used connecting blocks to build arrays that were broken apart, displaying split multiplication problems. When math time was over, I told the students that they could keep using the blocks, but now, they could “Build whatever you want.” They were in heaven. It was like I had taught them the proper way to use the monkey bars, and then told them they could play all over the playground doing anything they wished. Stay within the fence, and follow the general rules, but have a blast and blow off steam. They sure did.
Playtime isn’t relegated to only grade-school pupils; parents and adults can benefit from merriment as well (Chatty Feet Team, 2016). It helps us relax and promotes problem-solving skills. Also, it will help us play with our kids better. Libraries are using playtime to help kids develop literary skills. Parents at a library in Texas get out toy cars, tape, race tracks, and bowls of tiny road signs (Celano, Knapczyk, & Neuman, 2018, p. 68). Playing and building with these road toys helped the kids learn some of the concepts necessary for understanding the read aloud they were about to experience.
This is NOT a “free-for-all”, nor is it even “free-time”. It is playtime, and it is governed by rules.
No fighting or arguing.
Don’t be too loud.
Keep clean; Wash hands first/keep snack away from toys.
Don’t be gross. No licking your fingers and then touching the toys. (I’m not even going to mention picking noses.)
I limit the supplies that my students have access to during their playtime. I do this for a variety of reasons. One is that I want this time to be manageable. If there are ten different things out and spread around the room, it will take too long to clean up. Another reason that I limit the supplies is because I want the groups of students to interact. If one group is playing with Legos and another is building with Lincoln Logs, kids will not be as likely to share, collaborate, blend groups, etc. They have to stop playing with Legos in order to work with Lincoln Logs. Eventually, I want to see the class creatively incorporate a variety of building mediums into the same project, but all in good time. I want the kids to have some experience with each one, learning, exploring, and problem-solving with a single medium before branching out and combining.
Here is a list of the mediums that I have so far.
Potential Future Play Mediums: Video and Music
A future direction of this playtime that I foresee is publishing videos. Students will use the things that they have built to produce films with plots and themes. I imagine these to be silly and fun; Remember this is playtime! I can picture students making Monty Python-esque cartoons, old school Gumby claymation-style movies, and motion-stop videos.
Publishing videos on Youtube is scarily public. Students and kids have no idea what that means. They are lured by the fame of notoriety and the glamour of numbers. The idea of something going “viral” is the new “anyone could be president”. Except that there are serious hurdles to achieving most powerful person in the world, while going viral needs nothing more than a video camera, creativity, and luck… mostly, luck. And, every kid in America is banking on luck, these days. What if one of our videos did go viral? It is important that our movies present an accurate picture of our playtime.
When kids publish to Youtube or another online video platform, they are taking their play on the road… or information highway. What kids want is for their numbers to rise: They want the number of views to go up. The way to do that is to promote the videos, but more importantly produce something that people want to watch. In the same way that playing the games that others enjoy playing will get more people to join your playtime activity, videos that are attractive will get the views. In the incredibly interesting and informative article on this subject, “Raised by Youtube” author Alexis Madrigal (n.d.) writes about a company that I hadn’t even heard of: Chuchu Tv. This company is dwarfing Disney, Sesame Street, and all the rest of American video producers on Youtube. Their BILLIONS of views make these other companies look like online ants. The Indian-based company uses seemingly lotech imagery–two-dimensional characters to tell traditional nursery rhymes. Madrigal (n.d.) went to the headquarters and interviewed its creators and CEOs. The concept began with an audience of one: The creator’s toddler. The entrepreneur with a background in media began making videos for his young son. They almost instantly took off and went viral. He now employs 200 artists. Compared to Disney’s thousands of employees, this number is infantesmal! The mission of Chuchu Tv is to provide wholesome videos for toddlers that share moral messages. Madrigal spoke with a child development expert who reviewed Chuchu’s videos, Colleen Russo Johnson from UCLA’s Center for Scholars & Storytellers. She told him that the videos were so overly-stimulating that the good message is lost on young kids. Chuchu was born on the concept of seeking the most views. Although its mission is admirable, Chuchu plays to what is going to be viewed the most. Johnson sees this as dangerous, because it will develop viewers who want (need, like an addict) more and more stimulation.
I’ll be blogging about this a lot in the near future, but suffice to say, the app Garageband is a virtual playground of music. We had one lesson with Dylan Peters, and I now have to pry the iPads out of student hands!
My students and I are super excited for this new #playtime initiative. I haven’t told them about making videos, yet. But, our creative building has completely revolutionized our Language Arts time. Kids are more attentive, well-behaved, and cooperative in centers, after having a brain break. I look forward to sharing more about this time, how it is working out, and what my students are producing throughout the year. Please share with me articles that you have read that either support this idea, add to this concept, or even contradict my thinking. Thank you.