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Slow Down to Catch Up

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 7:13pm
Last updated
4 weeks ago
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Slow Down to Catch Up

Let's get it straight. Everyone wants to get back to school! Safely. However, one reason many are pushing for schools to fully reopen irks me.

“The kids are falling behind. They need to catch up!”

Let me counter that position with a statement of my own: Education is not a race!

Sadly, many feel the best way to “catch up” is to increase academic rigor, expand expectations, and inundate students with the work they missed while away from the brick and mortar classroom.

If there is any way to crush creativity, amplify anxiety, and eradicate the enthusiasm of getting back into the classroom, this would be it.

Maybe the kids can “catch up” by slowing down.

That may sound oxymoronic, but in my experiences as an early childhood educator, I learn more by seemingly doing less. Forget the image of a teacher lounging in a hammock with a cold beverage in your head. Instead, think of a duck. Calm on the surface but paddling like crazy under the water.

Don't get me confused, teachers are certainly working harder than ever. When I say doing less, I mean saying less, directing less, and controlling less. In other words, slow down. Breathe. Observe. Think. We can only control what we can control. The pressure to pick up the pace, complete more in less time with fewer tools, and make up for lost time will be incredible. 

But how can this be done, especially considering another additional round of distance learning seems inevitable? The best way to push back on this unnecessary yet unavoidable pressure is actually quite simple. Play more.

Providing the time, space, and opportunity to play will catch the children up. There is a disheartening misnomer out there that equates play to being a waste of time and only utilizing it as a reward in the classroom if utilizing play at all. The truth couldn't be farther from the truth. Play is not a break from learning. Play is learning. Play is not an alternative to work. Play is work. Play is not a reward. It is a right. In play, the skills necessary for academic endurance and achievement are practiced and perfected.

  • Want your students to be a problem solver? Play
  • Want your children to improve communication? Play
  • Want your class to express creativity? Play
  • Want everyone to think critically? Play

Grab that board game out of the closet. Dust off that deck of cards and give it a go. Find a box of crayons, some scissors, and pipe cleaners and see what comes of it. Sing a song, hum a tune, or create your own instrument to create a concert. Build a fort of pillows and couch cushions and hide from little brother. Better yet, invite him in and hide from your parents. Play, play, and play some more.

Slow down to catch up.

And if you really want to take play to the next level, take it outside. One could drown in the amount of research available that proves the benefits of play. Throw in the elements of outdoor and nature play and you’d be reading the rest of your life. As this pandemic has forced alterations to our routines and disruptions to our daily schedules, it has also allowed for a greater appreciation of everything Mother Nature has to offer.

Browse the internet for nature scavenger hunts and explore your backyard. Construct a fairy house or mouse house. Grab some chalk and turn your driveway into an art gallery. Climb a tree, jump in a puddle, muck around with mud, and create a nature bracelet with some tape and all the treasures found in the natural world. If able, expand past the borders of your backyard and explore your neighborhood and community. Nature is everywhere! The possibilities to play are limitless! 

Slow down to catch up.

n my neck of the woods in Wisconsin, while the rest of society closed their doors to help ward off the virus, Mother Nature opened up her arms and invited everyone in. Our local and state parks and trails saw a significant increase in usage. Not only does Mother Nature never close, but she also battles the virus in her own way. Besides the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual benefits already proven by playing in nature, scientists and medical professionals have mentioned that with proper precautions, virus transmission in the outdoor setting is minimal. 

And don’t for one second think you can’t play simply because you are an adult. Play lacks an age limit. Play doesn't end in childhood, or at least it shouldn't. With the extra stressors and responsibilities placed on our shoulders, adults need to play now more than ever before.

Host an online meeting with some friends and chat or play a game. Dig into that book that's been in your wishlist forever. Enjoy a hobby you’ve ignored or try out a whole new one. And don’t forget to get outside to exercise, decompress, and relax. Set aside some time each day to play.

Slow down to catch up.

With the snap of a finger, our world was flipped upside down. We can complain about it or face this new reality with a playfully positive attitude. Schools, families, and communities have a chance to mold the “new normal” into whatever we want to be. Like it or not, the idea that education is a race breeds an unhealthy environment that can out students, teachers, and even schools against each other. With a focus on play, we could end this ridiculous race and foster a new educational era of collaboration and cooperation.

Just by playing.
Let’s slow down to catch up.

While his claim to fame might be as a retired racing sausage for the Milwaukee Brewers, Peter Dargatz is prouder for being a father of three nature-loving children, a national board-certified teacher, and...