Let’s Play: Building the Free Play Common Core

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Play: Every Child’s Common Core

Play encourages creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, social skills…and so much more. Then there is the common core which promotes college preparation. “Free Play” Vs. “Common Core”…both in 2 corners ready to duke it out for the future of child development? Not necessarily! Create a Free Play Common Core to support creative-free play at home!

Free Play and Common Core are not two phrases usually seen together. The basic shared goal, in its simplistic form, of the Common Core State Standards is to give students knowledge and skills so they can be prepared to succeed in college, career and life. As a kid, play is a vital part of learning from the first peek-a-boo with a much loved adult to fort building with sofa cushions to running with the neighborhood kids making up games while socializing. Play encourages imagination, social interaction and play can teach self entertainment and more. All important skills to have for success on whatever path you choose. Play is your shared common core as a kid.

Common Core is a dirty pair of words here in the Pioneer Valley especially with MCAS test prep taking over a chunk of each public school day in preparation for March. I could spend endless hours in school meetings trying to fight the Core but I have chosen to spend that energy focused at home enriching my daughter’s education and down time. Selfish, but I can fight the fight when she is off in the world, which will be much too soon.

I argue for each house to have a set core of gathered materials and ideas ready to inspire play. Items gathered. A shelf packed with things to jump start play. Much loved books. Instruments. A kid nook started when the kiddos are babies. Items they can just grab and use. A special area you can point to and say, “Go play!” when someone announces they are bored and have the what-can-I-do-nows?. A fun Common Core.

Here is my Free Play Common Core list:

  • Books. A small rotating collection of favorite story books and idea-how-to books displayed with new ones mixed in periodically. Toss in a classic. Oh, and yes, snowmen can come alive at night! Just ask Caralyn Buehner, author of Snowmen at Play, a great story book to spark imagination!
  • Art materials. Paper. A big roll and typical 8.5×11. You never know when a banner might be needed or a tiny drawing of a cat could be necessary in a game. Pencils. Markers. Glue sticks. Scissors. Collage materials like old magazines and bits of this and that rescued from the recycling. Water color paints. Tapes.
  • Building materials. Blocks. LEGOs. An old sheet or blanket. Rope. Cardboard tubes and boxes. A flashlight.
  • Dress up. A cape. Hats. Fake glasses. A magic wand. A mask.
  • Music makers. Something for drumming. A kazoo. Maracas.
  • Toys. No batteries. Small animals. Play people. Race cars.
  • The great outdoors. A small bin by the door with a jump rope, chalk, hula hoop and a ball. Outdoors has plenty of good building blocks like sticks and rocks.

In my perfect vision of this list all the items would be organized on the just right shelf. The items will of course change throughout the year and as people grow. A soft rug with a low chair or comfy pillow would be placed in the nook. Maybe a lamp and definitely a framed piece of kid art. The frame gives importance. The items on the shelf will change but it would always be there in that special spot.

Every family household with its own Free Play Common Core! All a bit different to suit your family but with a shared goal of encouraging play and imagination.


Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

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