We’ve been running City School as pop up sessions for families who are curious to check us out.  Slowly we’re creating a community of regulars but we still get new families popping in.

When adults observe our pop ins and see non stop play, I sometimes struggle with what I guess their judgements might be. I’m holding space for the kids to do their thing but I’m also aware of the potential adult thinking; “All they do is play, when are they going to learn?  Is this really valuable?”

Yes.  They are learning and this is valuable.

This play is so rich with learning it’s hard for me to untangle what each is taking away from the experience.  Negotiating, storylines related to deep themes like society’s justice system, how to include others in play, how to meet everyone’s needs, or just developing an awareness of their own needs. It’s all there, happening right at each child’s individualized pace.

Plus, to get to the kind of learning that all adults traditionally value, kids need to feel safe. They need to feel safe to take risks, ask big questions, and struggle through muddy waters to reach answers that may be incomplete. Deep, valuable learning is messy and time-consuming so making sure the environment is safe for that kind of learning is important. Some kids are still testing the waters with other learners and facilitators to measure their safety and safety takes time to establish. Play is actually the fastest way to establish that safety.

When I look at this picture of the kids playing on their terms, I’m reminded of how few opportunities kids have to engage in large blocks of free play in a group.  So when it’s tidy up time and the energy level picks up and the kids just can’t bring themselves to help us in our tidy efforts I find myself struggling. Part of me is aware of the adult gaze upon us “you should make the kids tidy”…and my wish for them to help tidy… and the other part of me recognizes the intensity of the need to play. The kids are aware their time together is coming to an end, they feel the pressure, and they want to squeeze in every last drop of time together emersed in their play.  I get that.

Play on kids.  I trust you are meeting the needs that are strongest in you.  I trust the other “stuff” will come in due time.

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