I’ve always been intrigued by play. I knew going back into the classroom this year, after being out in a coaching role, that there was going to be space for play throughout the day in our second grade classroom. Our classroom community was built on the principles of play. Play is how we learn, how we think, how we connect.
Throughout this year I have learned a lot about my students by watching them play. I would argue that they have learned more about each other from their play. But just recently their play has started to feel different.
I first noticed a change during indoor recess where I heard a student say, “There’s no room for you here…you can’t play.” Nothing anyone who works with children hasn’t heard before but this idea of “no room” and “you can’t play” started to spread. Not only was it continuing to show up at recess but also during the other parts of our day. Questions like, “Can I be your partner?” and “Hey, can I join?” went ignored or even rejected at times. This was new. New behavior that I hadn’t noticed happening before.
It was apparent that we had to stop and address it. Vivian Gussin Paley, who in my mind, is the expert in children’s play wrote a book called, You Can’t Say You Can’t Play. In this book she writes about this rule in her classroom and her students experiences with it. I decided to take a move from her practice and introduce this statement to my class, You Can’t Say You Can’t Play.
Before I showed them the poster with the saying I asked them a series of questions to help me understand what was happening better. It looked like this…
I’m going to ask you all some questions that will help me think. I want you to close your eyes and lower your head. I’m going to begin asking questions now and please just keep your heads down and be as honest as you can.
Raise your hand if you have felt left out in this classroom.
Raise your hand if someone has told you that you couldn’t play in this classroom.
Raise your hand if your feelings have been hurt because someone in here wouldn’t play with you.
Raise your hand if you have told someone they couldn’t play.
Raise your hand if you have left someone out.
Once we were finished I put the number of hands raised next to the statements and then showed them the poster.
The conversation that followed was powerful and eye-opening. My students have worked hard on being kind, safe, respectful, and brave throughout this year but there was a hiccup and they realized that they had to figure it out. At the end the students wanted to sign the poster and keep it up as a reminder. But for me, my reminder, wasn’t the poster. The reminders are the questions I can’t get out of my mind as witnessed those tiny hands raising again and again.
Who raised their hand every time?
Who didn’t raise their hand because they were scared too?
Who am I missing?
What am I missing?
Who feels like they have power?
Who could might feel powerless?
These pictures are also a constant reminder that each and every day I have to do better. I have to do better at continuing to build the inclusive community we all want. I have to do better because now I know better.
“By kindergarten…a structure begins to be revealed and soon will be carved in stone. Certain children will have the right to limit the social experiences of their classmates. Henceforth a ruling class will notify others of their acceptability, and the outsiders learn to anticipate the sting of rejection…spreading like a weed from grade to grade.”
Vivian Gussin Paley
You Can’t Say You Can’t Play