I am the child of a teacher, so I have seen the hours of work involved in this job, as well as the amount of emotional and physical exhaustion it brings. I went into this profession with my eyes open. I had a fantastic role model in my mom, who I believe was a master teacher. I started in my own classroom 17 years ago and I know I have grown and changed a lot over that time. When I tell you of probably the biggest misconception I have had in this career, I ask that you be kind.
I started in a Grade 3 classroom in a rural school. These kids came from 2 parent homes, were talked to, read to, sang with and nurtured. There were monkeys and there were those “perfect” kids who sat in their desks in neat rows of 2. I had charts on the wall, duo-tangs at the ready, and these great unit plans developed. Don’t get me wrong, these kids worked, talked, laughed and learned. But there were a lot of worksheets, a lot of textbooks, different coloured notebooks and a LOT of photocopying. A few years later, I chose to go to a full time grade 1 classroom. I thought I could continue with photocopies, workbooks, charts, and neat rows of 2. Boy, was I wrong!!
Thankfully, my mom taught Grade 1, and helped me through the transition to these very excitable, often louder than a train, busy children. The clientele changed but my teaching methods really didn’t. I won’t tell you the many long, tearful discussions we had each night, but my mom kept telling me one thing over and over again, “Read The Primary Program, Liane. It will help you.”
I didn’t read it. I slogged through, trying my mom’s lessons (she was in a very different area than I) and I failed more than I succeeded in bringing joy to the lessons I taught. We did laugh and have fun, but after 9 years in K/1, 1 and 1/2 classrooms, with many worksheets and workbooks, I knew that enough was enough. I was not happy with the type of teacher I had become. I sat down, and I read the old 1990 Primary Program document.
The document states that the 4 year primary program is from K-3, and the goals are simple but mighty: intellectual, career, human and social development. The whole child is the most important thing through these areas of development:
- Aesthetic and artistic
- Emotional and social
- Physical development and well being
- Social responsibility
(The Primary Program: A Framework for Teaching, 1990, p. 14)
The answer to changing my teaching was suddenly horribly clear, fantastically simple and utterly frightening: PLAY. I was trying to isolate these areas of development and they needed to be explored and used in play. As the authors wrote back in 1990, “Meaningful and varied experiences in the primary years provide a strong foundation for children’s growth in all areas of development; they also enable children to benefit more from instruction. The curriculum areas provide a wealth of ideas with which to engage children so that they expand their knowledge of themselves and their world.” (The Primary Program, p.32) We had centres time, but it wasn’t facilitated or planned. It was simply a time for the children to burn off some of their energy. I needed to learn how to teach through play.
You may read this, and say, “Oh Liane, that was written back in the 1990s. Things have changed.” They really haven’t. In fact, I believe play is even more important now than ever. In the British Columbia Early Learning Framework from 2008, it states, “In playing, children express, explore, combine, and extend what they have learned about the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the world around them; about the words, signs, symbols, and customs of their language and culture; and about their own and other people’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, and sensations. In the play scenarios children invent and explore by themselves and with other children, they bring together everything they have learned and are wondering about. In play, children represent and transform the world around them, providing other children and adults with a window into their thoughts and perceptions, and often helping adults to see the world in new ways.” (British Columbia Early Learning Framework, 2008, p. 12) Play has now become my passion, my philosophy, my educational goal. I started off believing that children were meant to absorb information, to sit quietly as I imparted the pearls of knowledge I had gained over my life and to learn to be good students. Now, I know that they need to be great thinkers, inventors, questioners and explorers. In this new world of assessments at the age of 4, where achievement seems to outweigh curiosity and creativity, I am proud to say that I believe in play.
Oh, and I also listen to and do as my mom says now. I’ve learned: Mom knows best.