When do we stop thinking of play as something that nurtures learning? This question came to me as I talked with another group of parents last week. I was describing a typical day in the classroom and one parents said, “So it does sound like play. My child tells me they just play at preschool and I am wondering if they are going to learn anything.”
Yes, it does look like play because it is play. But let’s not fool ourselves. Play is work. The children just don’t know it yet.
When I first found myself wanting to knit a sweater, I thought it would be a diversion. As I looked at patterns, I quickly realized that while it might be fun to knit a sweater, there was going to be some work involved. I heard Dr. Weil say recently that one way of keeping our brains supple is to tackle tasks that create frustration. This project, only a few inches in, fits that criteria. It was not going to be as simple as casting on the stitches and increasing at the right places. I had to count, to pay attention, and I really need to learn a few things. The increase stitch was new to me. I fumbled with it for an evening, all the time thinking of a child I had watched, fumbling with a pair of scissors, struggling to make them cut the paper into a circle. Another child sat down and picked up a pair of scissors and began to cut. This second child had more scissor cutting experience and knew just how to hold the scissors to make the cuts. The first child watched for a minute, then returned to his own cutting. Soon he made an adjustment, putting the scissors down, picking them up again, mimicking the grip of his classmate. As his classmate finished cutting a circle, he made another adjustment, turning the scissors around so he was cutting away instead of toward himself. Each adjustment made the task a bit easier until he had cut around the circle shape to his satisfaction. He held up his own circle and smiled.
I found a video demonstrating this new stitch. I watched the demonstration, hit pause, and picked up my own needles. The first few increases were awkward but as I worked, the stitch began to feel comfortable. I searched for another video to learn how to make a buttonhole. More fumbling, more adjustments, but finally, success.
Yesterday I pulled a chair up to a cutting table in another classroom. Today the shape on the paper was a pumpkin, similar but with a bit more of a challenge to get that stem cut out. One child was working on this cutting activity. When he noticed me watching, he looked up and said, “This is my work. You gotta work hard. Even our dads gotta work hard.” He is right. This isn’t just playing with scissors or paper or yarn. This is playing, struggling, adjusting. This is learning.