Being extremely busy at work while also spending the past two months battling allergies/sinus issues/bronchitis/the common cold/pneumonia has kept me away from blogging for quite some time. My Super Stars will tell you that I'm on the mend though, because last Wednesday and Thursday, I actually sang a song, all the way through, and didn't forget any words OR COUGH mid-verse.
Look! It's a light at the end of the Respiratory Tunnel!
Being unable to speak (or sing) did make for increased opportunities to participate in online chats via Twitter and Facebook groups during the lead up to Halloween, and the predictable debate between fellow teachers regarding whether or not dressing up at school was educationally relevant. A lament across multiple chat threads occurred when fellow early childhood teachers expressed frustration that they weren't allowed to have dramatic play or "pretend" centers in their classrooms. Many veteran teachers shared stories of how they had been asked/told to remove their dress up and puppet centers to make room for more "rigorous" activities, such as worksheets or increased time in front of a computer. These demands were all made by tech-integration advocates, administrators and school boards, none of whom specialize in child development (it's a real thing).
Considering that children, young adults, and grown ups regularly:
1) go trick-or-treating wearing masks and costumes, using props that they don't usually need in their day to day lives
2) experiment with new hairstyles, clothing, and cosmetics
3) wear the jerseys and sports colors of their favorite athletes without necessarily being athletes themselves
4) don gowns and tuxedos or suits for dances, weddings, anniversaries, proms, birthdays, and religious events
5) participate in cosplay events, portraying their favorite superheroes, book, television, and movie characters
6) wear their "Sunday best" for church
7) participate in clothing themed days for Red Ribbon Week (Wacky Tacky or Pajama Day anyone?)
8) dress up OTHER items, such as their pets, or turn soda bottles or pumpkins into book characters for school projects
9) and perform in dramatic, romantic, or comedic theater
...advocates of developmentally appropriate practice are right to be bothered by the double standard regarding imaginary play.
As illustrated in the list above, it's obvious that adults support dress up and pretend play when it comes to emulation, entertainment AND education, but for some reason, when they walk into a kindergarten classroom and find a child-sized kitchen, box of dress up clothes, or creative construction zone where students fashion artwork and props for their own dramatic play, many voice concerns and criticisms regarding rigor, academic readiness, and "real learning." Parents are worried their children won't really learn what it means to be at school if they're playing with dolls, filling purses, or pretending to cook a Thanksgiving feast with plastic food. Teachers worry that the time children spend trying on the roles of others and practicing social skills will reduce the amount of time available to cover academic concepts required for kindergarten mastery. Administrators can't figure out where dramatic play falls on the evaluation rubric they must use as they determine the efficacy or needs of their teachers, because "developmentally appropriate practice" isn't included on many observation tools or checklists.
My kindergartners like to pretend to be superheroes, villains, weather elements, soldiers, or fantastical creatures when they're outside playing during recess. They also run, kick, bounce, throw, and catch balls, swing, climb, slide, and work their way across monkey bars. They roll in the grass, race with their friends to the fence and back, and try to build nests from fallen leaves and twigs. In our classroom they pretend to be mothers, fathers, older siblings, chefs, veterinarians, office workers, authors, illustrators, and even teachers, their dramatic play role models being more closely associated with real life. These girls were pretending to be mommies out shopping. They packed their purses, prepared their babies, and took along their "cell phones" so that they could call one another in the mall to find out where to meet for lunch when their shopping was done. During dramatic play they regularly "ran into" one another at the mall, discussed purchases they had made, determined which stores they still needed to go to, helped one another with her "baby," and negotiated which restaurant to meet at and what type of food to eat for lunch. One of the girls even created an ATM card out of a post it note to use when paying for her meal, adding her name to the note and the numbers 123456789.
During pretend play, my students' language use and development far surpasses mere vocabulary exposure. Increased use of adjectives, tenses, and the corrections by peers of misused words can all be heard as classmates try on the personalities of individuals or animals other than themselves. Empathy, sympathy, humor, and the growing awareness of multiple perspectives helps to widen the scope of each child's world, a development also facilitated by pretend play during our center time. Opportunities to expand upon concepts introduced somewhere ~other~ than a desk and chair help my students to express their creativity. Why merely cut and paste pictures of animals on a worksheet that a veterinarian might help, when I can invite students to bring stuffed animals from home to create an animal hospital, complete with stethoscopes, play medical kits, bandaids, scrubs, surgical masks, and cardboard boxes? Adding paper and pencils to the dramatic play corner enables "animal doctors" to write down prescriptions and medical directions for pet owners, and signs for designated treatment areas too. Is there another activity where reading, writing, math, sequencing, cause and effect, fine motor, communication, negotiation, turn taking, language and social skills development, problem solving, transitioning, sorting, and cleaning up after oneself are all completely integrated? And guess which activity is always marked by 100% student engagement and time on task? That's right: dramatic play.
Casual observers and critics demand to know how we can provide academic rigor through pretend play, to which I must reply:
How can we provide academic rigor and opportunities for growth and development without it?