Yessir, I was feeling pretty smart. I was feeling pretty proud. I had been given a job to do and I figured I could really make a difference. My boss had called my coworker and me into her office in January to tell us that Health Canada (yes the federal government) in partnership with the Cree Nation wanted us to develop and teach a course called Introduction to Early Childhood Care and Education. We would teach this course to Early Childhood Assistants and Early Childhood Educators from remote First Nations communities all over Manitoba. We would teach about a variety of topics including health & safety, positive guidance and one of my favourites, the importance of play.
So I got busy. I was ready to wow them with Piagetian power point presentations covering the types, styles and stages of play, the factors that distinguish play from non-play (according to Rubin, Fein & Vandenberg no less) and the ways that play promotes the development of children’s physical, cognitive and affective domains, all pulled together with some clever and amusing anecdotes from my wealth of experience with young children. Yessiree, I was feeling pretty smug. I was gonna be a fabulous, fun teacher.
I had no idea.
I did not anticipate the stories that I would hear from my students.
I did not know what I would learn….
I asked, “How did you like to play when you were little?”
“What did you like to play with?” “Why was this important to you?”
And they responded. Some boisterous. Some laughing. Some shy. Some with tears.
"I loved to play school. I had no brothers or sisters or dolls. But I had a patchwork quilt on my bed. So each patch was a student and I would stand beside my bed and be the teacher. I taught them letters and numbers and how to behave. The patches were my students. I loved playing school."
"I grew up on the trap line with my grandparents so I didn’t have toys. I would find a stick or branch and wrap a rag around it and that would be my baby doll. I took very good care of it."
"My brother and me built a fort in the bush. We worked really hard on it. It was great. And it was a safe place if Mom and Dad were drinkin’… y’know?"
"I loved playing baseball. I played with my three cousins and they let me play even though I was a girl. We had so much fun. Then one summer when I was a teenager they were all killed in a car accident so I couldn’t play baseball anymore. I miss them."
"I didn’t get to play in the foster home. My sister and I had to work on the farm. When I was eight, I finally got to live with my real Mom again. She bought each of us a Barbie doll. It was my first doll. I loved her so much. I was so happy to be with my Mom. I still love Barbies and I’m forty years old!"
"Every spring my grandmother’s flooded garden became a magic lake."
And so my charts and facts and theories became irrelevant. I had forgotten the most important part. In the end, I was not the teacher. I became the humbled student. I learned about the vulnerable hearts of children and the resilient, resourceful souls of the adults they become.
So I’m not quite so self satisfied anymore. Yessir, I nudged myself down a notch or two. I know I can still pass on valuable information about children and play but my students taught me about true understanding.
Stop shopping and go play! Peace.
(Note: Students’ stories are not direct quotes, but are as close to the real thing as I can remember!)
©Conni Cartlidge, 2006