Fond memories of my childhood exist in a natural hiatus, just behind my suburban home. My escape was nestled in a green barrier of shrubs, out of sight of adult supervision, with a stack of cardboard boxes, and plastic my Dad brought home from the factory. The cardboard was the frame and body to the fort, while the plastic provided a shell from inclement weather. Each box would carefully be inserted into the next and would rest gentle on the slope, with room for additions. Plastic would drape over the top and stones would be collected to serve as an anchor for any high winds. I built the forts with an ambition to last a season – if not a lifetime. A piece of rug would serve as a cushion from the hard ground, and I could lie their on drizzle days listening to the petter patter of the rain, as droplets streamed down plastic folds. Inside the fort I could imagine a cocoon wrapped around me and feeling protected. Other times since the ground did have a slight slope, you could slide into the fort when the rug was out. Each fort was a different design depending on the various sizes of boxes and each spark of a new idea, unraveled into another world of the imagination. Constructing the fort served a function, and it required the intention of working to see it completed. With out a doubt my reward was the finished product – of seeing the fort as envisioned, with infinite possibilities for changes. I put hard work into it to my, structure, I was the architect, and the oasis behind my urban home, was my playground. Each box fort was never just an empty box – it was full of visions and ideas.
Looking back there was no separation between the work, involving building the fort, and the imaginary and physical play that followed. Those days of building and staking it out in forts were joyous, and there was not conceivable difference between the work and play I was doing – my personal project, however sometimes cooperative with friends, served a function in my development, as a child.
The feeling of creating something meaningful and seeing it through completion, is what stands within my memory, Never, do I once recall being interrupted, unless dinner was on the table, and I always knew I could return to my efforts. This sort of project would never have occurred within my school environment, the lapse between bell periods would have broken up my time, teachers would not allow such an experience, it would divert attention away from the curiculumn of “learning,” and it would be chalked up as simply just “playing.”
But, later in my life, I can truly I identify with the moment of the experience, not just as a glimmer, but something that resonates inwardly, and has given me the self-satisfaction, confidence, competence, and solitude to know how I would want to interact with the natural environment today. No, I have not built a fort in years, yet when I engage as an educator in a preschool environment, the building of forts goes on uninterrupted, as I do not dare disassemble a work in progress and the imaginary play which unravels.
Youth do not distinguish between work and play it is a social construct, which only manifests itself into adult years. Play and work can be interchangeable, if the interest of and individual or group sharing a common objective guides the experience.
Preschools that have the whole child in mind, know the value of play and realize how work can easily be interlaced with play if allowed the time to do so, free of coercion or and rigid structures. While building forts never did I think to myself this behavior is “play,” and this behavior is “work.” But, I think it is worth mentioning that in the standard school, centralized arena, which is so heavily endorsed in academia, play can be associated as a plague which deteriorates the mind and demoralizes one’s ability to act and function as a part of society. For years, traditionally play has been at the guiltiness, as an ineffective means to a society which values work. I think the opposite holds true, that play, especially when kids are allowed ample time for it, is a catalyst towards supporting work, which later in life becomes more abstract – is done independently or cooperatively for a common “good”, not as a cog in the machine, but out of the willingness of self-empowerment of self and community. It is arbitrary to link work with play with kids, they are no inculcated with this adult counterpoised relationship to work and a form of employment or something you do to achieve a reward from someone else, or the concept of play as a leisure activity that could be trivial or frivolous. Play has multiple meaning and it can be defined several ways by all walks of people in or out of education profession, yet this other wise subjective and linear way of framing play, does not exist in a Childs life. If you ask a six year old what they do for work and what they do for play, they would glare at you like you have two heads. And why should we hold adult expectations of pedagogy and play or work other wise called academics, at our control as something that is interjected into the day as an obligated scenario. Of course, we need to be cautious of formulating play as a sort of context that needs to be tightly managed in the classroom, Self-directed or even organized play projects in the classroom with or without the teacher, as the majority of the time teachers need to just get out of the way should occur, but it should not be a burden of just a set of techniques pulled from the teachers tool kit. And play cannot have limitations, which serve conveniences or are stifled by the issues and concerns to teachers, which commonly come down to messes to the temporary mingling of materials from one side of the room to the next. Occasional a child gets the twitch to build herself or himself a fort, pulling over chairs and draping over blankets for the perfect hide out, however this does not need to be squashed by adults prejudging the situations as just play. A fort is an architectural marvel, which usually brings many gaping eyes and invites others over for social time. And a fort takes the design of shapes, and often can lead into a cooperative project for practicing effective communication, because I fort often calls for workers dressed and fitted with toy hard hats. And the work and play are then part of the mix of what learning is all about.
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