The author of Emphasizing the Importance of Play During Distance Learning, Madeleine Rogin, shares her experiences and insights around the role of play for teachers and students. Play tends to provide intrinsic motivation, opportunities for decision making, and spontaneous immersion in the moment; all of which have positive impacts on learning.
PODCAST TRANSCRIPTSteve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out loud podcast. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding. And my curiosity is peaked whenever I explore with teachers the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate coach and support their learners.
Steve: 00:31 Creating environments and time for play. Joining our podcast today is Madeline Rogin, a kindergarten and dance teacher in El Cerrito, California. Her background with degrees in education, writing dance and education leadership, should provide us with great insights for a conversation about play. Welcome, Madeline.
Madeline: 00:56 Thank you. Happy to be here.
Steve: 00:58 So glad, so glad. Can you tell us a little bit about the development of your interest around the concept of play?
Madeleine: 01:07 Sure. So when I think back to when I first got curious about play and how kids play and what happens when – not just kids, but when children and adults play, I think it really goes back to my home environment. I grew up with a mom who’s a playwright and an artist and we often read scenes together at home from her plays from other plays. And it was a certain specific kind of play, it was very theatrical, but I felt this sort of magic in my home environment around taking on characters and kind of entering into this imaginary realm where different rules apply where it felt very expansive and time kind of took on a different sense of meaning and it was a way that we could bond together as a family and really nice way. So I think for me, it happened really young that I got really curious about the imagination and what can happen to you inside and when with your family and in your relationships around play.
Steve: 02:12 Thank you. I read a piece that you had had written which is what caused me to get in touch with you. You wrote a piece about the importance of play during the time of distance learning. I’m wondering if you could share some of those thoughts but also then extend it to this time when students are starting to return to the classroom.
Madeleine: 02:38 Yeah. I think when we run into, I think for many of us educators going into distance learning last spring was very abreast and unexpected and new. It was new for me. I’d never taught online before. Especially not with all the challenges of working with five and six year olds through a screen. And I think the number one goal I had in all of that sort of turmoil and trauma in a way for kids and families was around, how do we keep children engaged with us? How do we make them feel safe and seen and heard and just get them to come on the screen? I mean, a lot of children at that age, a lot of my students were very hesitant to join in a classroom virtually. And so I started to realize the things that they got excited about were the same things that they were excited about in the classroom, which were whatever appealed to them, what their curiosity was about what they like to play at home, what kind of games they like to play, what they like to build with different materials, giving them an opportunity to share all of that with me online.
Madeleine: 03:44 So doing things like, today, all we’re going to do is take a tour around your playroom and show me what you are interested in, what you like to do. And then all of a sudden they were just lit up. They were excited, they were happy to be with me. And just asking them open ended questions like, what are you thinking about right now? What are you interested in? And so we did a lot of play online. First, it started with them kind of directing, sharing, and sharing with each other. And then it turned into games that we discovered we liked to play like I Spy or different games like that through the computer. And when we came back to the classroom this year, as we’re just now coming back, I mean, in my school, we’ve been back for a little while, but I know in lots of schools, that’s just a new thing.
Madeleine: 04:32 I keep thinking about how we can maintain that real strong family home connection now that children have been home for so long. And I think the best way that I’ve been able to do it is extend that curiosity that I have about who they are, who they are at home, what they like to do. And the more I can maintain that really strong curiosity about my students and continued to let them know that I care really deeply about what they enjoy and what they like to play and find ways to just make that happen in the classroom as much as I can, whether that’s a lot of open-ended time in the afternoons, we try to have a lot of open-ended time after lunch where, kindergarten students aren’t necessarily at their best for learning math but they are so good at playing.
Madeleine: 05:27 As soon as you tell them it’s choice time, all of a sudden they’re like – I mean, I hear students in the morning when we’re doing something that’s hard for them say, “this is hard,” and then as soon as it’s time for choice time these same kids are saying, “I love school.” So the more we can find ways to have that sense of choice, which is really about play it’s about, they know when it’s choice time, they know that it’s their time. So one thing I’m really interested in right now is how do we give them that sense that it’s their time when we’re doing all that we do at school? It is their time when we’re doing math. It is their learning time when we’re teaching literacy and finding ways to make it joyful, make it playful, is sort of the things that I think are really important,
Steve: 06:18 As I was listening to you, the word that was going through my mind was sharing. And from the standpoint of it, it sounds like you’re creating the opportunities where they are sharing about them and with each other and with you. And I guess there’s a a realness that comes through with that sharing?
Madeleine: 06:45 Yes. A hundred percent. I think that’s true because what doesn’t work for young children is when – I mean, little kids come to school and they don’t differentiate between play and work. It’s all the same for them. And when you create a classroom where they feel like – you’re tricking them into learning. Like, oh, we’re, we’re using all these 3d kind of geometric shapes to make structures and now we’re going to learn all these different math concepts, but meanwhile, it’s really just them playing. But when they don’t have that experience, when they come to school and they feel like, oh, this is math and math is hard, that’s when it gets really hard for kids and when that natural curiosity kind of gets blocked. So I do think there is something about being really real around about who they are and how they learn and then also for them to feel like wow, here’s an adult who is so interested in what’s actually going on for me, not necessarily what, what, you know, they want me to be doing, but what I am actually about, I think that does bring it. It’s like a way to build trust too.
Steve: 07:52 It’s cool listening to you because I had the experience of going from being a fifth and sixth grade teacher to a first grade teacher and that discovery that the kids didn’t see it as work, they saw it as play, and kind of capturing in my mind somehow we needed to maintain that. And when I first began doing some consulting work with high schools on redesigning learning at the high school, I actually took high school teachers to preschool classes and had them watch the kids in a preschool class. So now how could we make high school look more like that? How do you look at the cooking center and what does that look like at a high school where kids have choice and take on learning in a real environment which in many studio settings in a high school does occur.
Madeleine: 08:44 Right. Yeah, I mean, that makes sense to me. I mean, just because as kids get older, they don’t lose their – well, it’s sort of sad when they do lose that natural desire for learning. But it’s still in there, right?
Steve: 08:58 Yeah. By middle school we have to bring it back out. It was already there and now we’ve gotta go looking to find it again.
Steve: 09:10 When I read your article, you recommended another article. You provided the link that was in the national association for the education of young children. And when I went back and pulled that, it gave some reasons that play were important. I’d like to just label these here and have you jump in anywhere that that you’d want to expand on, but it talked about the fact that when children play, they were intrinsically motivated, they were making their own decisions and that they were spontaneously immersed in the moment. So take any piece there that you’d like to and kind of expand on it.
Madeleine: 09:57 Yeah. We have these goals as educators around we want our kids to be good citizens and we want them to solve problems and we want them to be kind, and we want them to love learning and all of these things. And so much of it can feel kind of put upon a child, like, here’s what you need to do, here’s how we’re going to do it. And then there’s this magical thing happens during play where they want to solve their problems, they want to learn. And a lot of it is about they set these goals for themselves that they’re motivated to accomplish – I’ve seen, almost every day that I’m in the classroom, there are some times like that arises out of play, whether it’s, I really wanted these blocks and I need them for my structure.
Madeleine: 10:42 And then I also really care about this friendship and I don’t want to lose this friend and also we can share ideas and learn together in a really interesting way. So I feel like once they’re playing together, all of these sort of goals that we’ve set, they’re actually doing it, and they are doing it very developmentally appropriately too, which I really appreciate about self-directed play, about open-ended play, where they’re solving the problems at the stage that they’re at, where they are developing this language, and the beautiful thing about it too is, as a teacher, when you’re present for it, because I don’t think it necessarily works to just put materials out in a room and then stay behind your desk and let the kids go. I mean, that’s kind of the Lord of the Flies approach maybe.
Madeleine: 11:34 Like we’re just gonna – they’re here and they’re going to do it. I prefer it to be very close to the play, not involving it necessarily, but present for it so I can hear what’s happening and guide when I need to, when a child is really having a difficult moment, being able to say, have you tried saying that, have you tried this approach? And then stepping back and seeing what happens. And I think that’s really important for educators to know that – I mean with every age, but with young children, they need us and they value our presence. It makes them feel very important to have the teacher nearby. And also what an amazing thing for kids to know that their teacher cares so much about how they’re playing.
Steve: 12:22 I’m almost hearing the role of coach. Like a coach while they’re playing.
Madeleine: 12:29 That’s sort of how I look at it. I think it is like a coach. Like somebody is there to guide and direct, but not necessarily to, like a coach, has to let the kids acquire the skills.
Steve: 12:44 I recently heard a interview with high school students describing what they would suggest that teachers do to help generate students’ engagement. And while they didn’t use the word play, I sense that what they were describing was a playfulness on the part of the teacher and that when the teacher was playful, the students were connecting that to a realness. I would use the word that sometimes the teacher was hokey and the kids might moan, but even part of the high school student moaning about the teacher, that they saw it as a playfulness of the teachers showing their real side. I’m wondering if you could comment a little bit about the teacher being playful?
Madeleine: 13:39 Yeah. I’m just thinking about my own experience in high school and the teachers that I felt that from. And I remember I had a psychology teacher who was so passionate about psychology, and he would just have us talk about these really deep ideas and you could feel his passion. And I remember he put a chair in the middle of the room and then we’d all have to stand around the chair and he’d say, “how do we know the chair is there?” And we’d all get into this big discussion about perception and reality. And I would maybe describe him as a little bit hokey because he was so consistently passionate about philosophy and psychology. And I think that is so important for older children to feel the teacher being themselves, because we were talking before about, as you get older in school and kind of the danger of losing this innate desire for learning.
Madeleine: 14:34 And I think for older students to see their teachers have retained that passion and curiosity and excitement, it is very
childlike. And what happens in adolescence, I have two teenagers and I see them struggle with being a little too cool for school and not wanting to show there that side that is hokey, that is like, I still love learning. It’s in there, it’s in there and so when you see an adult who’s kind of let down their guard and able to say, I still care so deeply about learning and about growing and about you, I think for teenagers that might be, you’re going to have to say, oh gosh, but then you’re also allowed in that’s your entry with your teacher is to say, this is an adult who cares so much about my experience. So allowing older kids to have that opportunity, to know that it’s okay to be curious, it’s okay to be childlike and modeling that I think is really important.
Steve: 15:35 I’m just picking up listening to you that you several times have brought the word curiosity and play together.
Madeleine: 15:45 A hundred percent. That’s to me what play is about. It’s about your own questions about the world, your own curiosity about it, and how you ask those questions and experiment with other people. And sometimes alone. I mean, some of my students, they love to play alone and their parents will get worried – is it okay for my child to play by themselves? And I think it’s so important to find whether it’s in nature or, even in a quiet corner of a classroom, that it doesn’t necessarily have to be with a peer, but that you get to go deep in your own curiosity about the world and that that’s valued and that we, as educators are really clear with our community, like our families and our colleagues that we care so much about this, that this is just as important as other areas of learning.
Steve: 16:36 I’m just so excited that you’re sharing this with us. I’m wondering if there’s any one last thought you might want to leave with with teachers who are listening in on this podcast?
Madeleine: 16:51 I think we are all very stressed. I think this is a very hard time to be an educator, just like it is a hard time to be doing so many things with the pandemic and so many unknowns and the traumas that a lot of our students are going through around loss and school and what it’s going to look like, and what’s normal. And I guess I would just say, the opportunity to be joyful and find humor and connect with your students and giving them the opportunity to do that with each other, to me now, that feels like the most important – one of the most important things we can offer our students is that opportunity to find joy through play to find times that we can laugh and I think that gives a sense of calm and a sense of optimism and hope for kids.
Steve: 17:46 Great. We as adults need it at the same too. Madeline, what’s the way that folks might easiest connect with you if they if they have a question that they’d like to get back to? I will include your article as a link in the opening to this podcast as well as the the other article from the early childhood group that you recommended. But if people have questions they want to follow up with you, what’s best for them?
Madeleine: 18:18 Probably email and I respond pretty quickly to email. So it’s my full name, which is, firstname.lastname@example.org. And then the other way folks can get in touch with me is through Medium. I have a lot of blogs on Medium and I respond to comments and questions on there too. So if you just go to Medium and search my name, you’ll see my stuff.
Steve: 18:43 Terrific. And we’ll be sure to put your your email address in the lead-in to this podcast as well. Thank you very much.
Madeleine: 18:51 Thank you.
Steve [Outro]: 18:55 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.