Let’s Play: Simple Play at the Table

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Where did all the play go? Am I the only parent that is mourning its loss?

The new math makes sense to me. I read Old Dogs, New Math: Homework Help for Puzzled Parents last winter after a friend with middle school aged children mentioned the math concepts coming my way. I like to be prepared. Current reading readiness makes sense. At first I was a bit surprised by the way letter formation and penmanship is introduced in kindergarten—broken down into simple strokes and marks—no letters. I came from the generation of blue, lined practice paper with dashes mid way to mark the height of lower care letters and teachers that loved red marks. I decided to watch and wait. It worked. So far I am on board and enjoying the elementary school experience with my daughter. 

BUT. The new lack of recess time does not make sense to me. I know. I am about to use the “when I was a kid” story opener. In my hometown of 10,000 in rural Michigan, we had recess three times a day. Fresh air, running, swinging, jump rope, four square, tag, climbing tunnels, slides and kickball during sun, drizzle and cold. They even allowed us to run around and play good guys vs. bad guys. Play and social time. We had routines (which many children thrive on) that moved us throughout the day from math to reading to recess to music to lunch to recess to art to science to recess and gym. Concentrated times to focus on classroom tasks and ample time to run and be kids. Recess is down to once a day during the short lunch break. Some classrooms are lucky enough to earn extra outside time with a reward system based on classroom behavior. Generally children have only 15 to 20 minutes of free play during a six hour day.

There are many reasons for the cut backs in recess time. Curriculum requirements seem to be at the top of the list along with those tests every one mumbles about. There are many studies out there that I have yet to read and theories I add to my research pile each year. I have read on the importance of play and its POSITIVE impact on all areas of learning. I have yet to come across an article telling how bad play is for children. Play causes enjoyment while promoting creativity, socialization, storytelling, reasoning, working out solutions in play situations with peers and simple fun. All these things and more enhance day to day learning. There is no need to mention how much easier it can be for children and adults to focus on a set task after a bit of exercise and fun. You can get the wiggles out and then tackle a book with new vocabulary or a complicated word problem.

I am not looking for a set answer. The world has changed. Children have changed. I just think it is important to take notice of our children, their school days and their play.

“… children are not one-dimensional, nor does their development proceed along a well-defined path. Everything we add to the mix along with play further advances learning. Drawing, clay, books, music, games and dance suggest but a few areas of enrichment. However, it is the child’s ability to play in a sustained manner that makes sense to other children, which opens the gates to all other pathways.” —Sara Smilansky, research in academic readiness

We can all add play into our lives at home but our time at home is filling up. Art and music exposure is limited at school as well as other enrichment offerings. Can today’s parent squeeze all this in at home to compensate for things lost during the busy school day and still maintain a calm household? I am trying. Play is important at our house. The trick is making it part of the home routine while avoiding the over scheduled household crazies.

November Collections and Projects

This month our collections are easy for some simple play at the table. Grab the paints, markers, crayons, paper and pencils. If you happen to have feathers and goggle eyes, put those out with the glue. Make hand turkeys. Have the kids sign and date them. We make one each year and save it. Very fun to compare the version from November 2005 when my daughter was just a month old to this year’s version done completely solo. When she was so tiny, I painted each finger a different color with non-toxic tempera paints. Her palm was painted brown and I pressed it into the paper. Turkey print. Clean up was easy with a few baby wipes. After it was dry, I added a beak, eye and legs with a black marker. The waddle was done in red marker.

For those of you that like to play with your food, pick up a few extra apples for apple turkeys. This link was sent to me by a family friend after I sent out a Facebook post encouraging everyone to make hand turkeys this month. An excellent sculpture. She made a similar apple turkey as a child. The supply list might include tooth picks, marshmallows, raisins, cranberries and gum drops in addition to the apple. An updated version might have kale or spinach for tail feathers mixed with carrot or celery sticks, a date for a head and dried blueberry eyes with a carrot waddle. Maybe some popcorn feathers. Admire him a bit, take a photo and then have a healthy snack. A perfect use for those delicious, local Honey Crisp apples.

Two ideas that encourage my favorite kid activities—art making and fun food. Have fun and enjoy your kids.

November Resources:


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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