Thursday, January 24, 2013

FIRST Do Your Work, THEN We Can Play!

So, if you've ever said, 

"First, do your work and then we can play" to a two, three or four-year-old child, 

AND you know how important the teachings of Jean Piaget are, then you need to go and get a sheet of paper and a pencil, go to your desk, sit down and write: 

"PLAY IS THE WORK OF CHILDHOOD" a million times...I'm not kidding.


I once climbed up 4 flights of stairs lugging 2 heavy bags filled with toys, huffing and puffing, sweating in the extraordinary heat of a July in the Bronx, about 13 years ago.  

I arrived at the apartment door of my 18 month old early intervention client, and entered the slightly cooled apartment (yay! an air conditioner!).  I sat on the floor to get ready to begin, when the mom, who was young...about 18-years-old...said, "I thought you were a teacher...all you do is play with toys.  When are you going to start teaching her things?" 

I was speechless...and confused.

Did she expect me to bring a chalkboard, chair and desk and set up a classroom in her living room? For an 18-month-old child?

It was at that exact moment that I realized how important it is for me to explain WHY I do the things I do with children (to whomever is observing and judging my work).   
Most parents, and some professionals, simply do not understand the tremendous V-A-L-U-E of play activities in helping children to prepare for and acquire academic skills and other skills, in a variety of areas: 

**Gross Motor Skills
**Fine Motor Skills
**Cognitive Skills
**Receptive Language Skills
**Expressive Language Skills
**Speech Skills  

Getting The Word Out

The day that mother said, "
...all you do is play with toys.  When are you going to start teaching her things?" was the same day I started asking parents (or childcare workers) things like,

"Do you know why we are playing with the toy telephone?"

...and explaining...

"When she dials, she is practicing pointing her finger, which will help her to point to what she wants, and will work the muscles in her finger and hand" 

"When she stands up and pulls the toy phone by its string and it rolls on its wheels, she is practicing balance and walking in a more steady and safer way."  

"When she turns around to see the phone behind her she is changing her attention from what's in front of her to what's behind her.  Being able to change attention from one thing to another is important in learning."

"When she jargons (pretend talks) into the phone, she is showing us that she knows the intonation of our language, but needs to work on increasing her vocabulary."

"When she takes turns with me holding the receiver and using the phone to talk, she is beginning to develop sharing skills, which will be so important when she interacts more with other children in her family and, one day, at school."

Play is delicious!
It is so rich and alive!
It's enjoyable and motivating!
It teaches us multiple things at once, and more than any flash card or coloring page could. 
My Own Experiences With Play (As A Child)

People who have seen me play with children might not believe it, but when I was a child I preferred to sit on the stoop (that's a Brooklyn term for front steps),...yes, I preferred to sit on the stoop, on a warm summer evening, and listen to the neighborhood women gossiping, rather than run around the neighborhood with the other kids playing night-time tag. If play was work then I was lazy.  
I finally learned how to be a good academic "student" by third grade, but, in those days, thinking outside the box never once occurred to me. Things were either right or wrong, black or white, made sense to me or were totally ridiculous.

My idea of playing Barbies was to dress the dolls, making a white cotton handkerchief into a wrap-around dress, or trying to make furniture for the dolls out of cardboard, but that was it.  

I remember only agreeing to play "Barbies" after warning my girlfriends, "Ok, I'll dress the dolls, but I won't pretend the dolls can talk!"  Speaking for dolls made me highly uncomfortable and anxious, for some reason.  Now, I realize it was most likely because I was introverted, and it made me feel very self-conscious. 

I'm very different now.  For the sake of getting a child's attention, I'd be willing to make a dust-bunny talk, or a pencil or my shoe.  I had to learn how to play full-out in order to do what I presently do.

The beginnings of me learning how to play, and how to enjoy play for its own sake, began at Queens College during teacher education classes, because I was forced to do so.   

Boy, am I grateful that the Universe decided to teach me how to play!  Play isn't just for young children.  Playing is what keeps you young.  If you feel you are too old to begin to play full-out, please remember: "Better late than never."

If you're not yet convinced of the V-A-L-U-E of play, but you love a child who may miss out on opportunities either because of your timidness or your opinion, I would say, "Better be safe than sorry."

Thank you, Jacqueline!

This evening, I saw a tweet from one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey:

Jacqueline Laurita (@JacLaurita)
ADORABLE! a fun father and son video

I watched the video she shared and was amazed.  I tweeted back to her: 

That child learned more from interacting w /his Dad in 1 afternoon than many kids do in a kidding! Loved it!  

In the video there were fun, interesting interactions with a tremendous variety of toys, gross motor movements  I saw constructing and throwing, jumping and climbing, tickling, eating and so much more...all in one afternoon! Major kudos to that dad!  Instinctively, he knew what is right to do...(especially cleaning up before mom gets home)!  

[The link to the video is at the end of this post]
So, Today's Lesson Is:!
Giggle and enjoy each others' company!
Be silly and explore new possibilities!
Talk in different voices and make up new songs!
Tell jokes and put on shows...magic...puppets...singing, dancing, reading poetry or rapping!
It's all good...all very good!

Sometimes be serious...but, only occasionally, when you absolutely have to.  Then crack a smile, or make a joke to let everyone know it's R-E-C-E-S-S and each of you can go back to PLAYING!

As far as children and work goes...(at this point in time) I will agree that you might call household chores "work."  So, if it's the child's chore to wipe the table before going out to engage with you in a game of soccer, then I guess you can say, "First finish your work, and then we'll play."

BUT...let's not forget the proverb:

All work and no play makes John a dull boy.

I always thought that meant dull personality-wise.
However, maybe it was in reference to intelligence.
Playing And Working Simultaneously

I know a wonderful woman, who struggled to find her calling, and after years of searching finally settled on the goal of becoming an OT (occupational therapist).  When she was about half way through her college program, I found out that she was struggling with the harsh academic demands of her studies.  

We talked on the phone and I encouraged her, "Hang on!  The day-to-day work of being an OT is not like college.  It's different; way different.  You're going to love it!  I swear!"

Well, she hung in there, and finished and found a job she loved.  She called me months later and said, "I can't believe they are paying me to play all day long! This is the best job in the world!"

Of course, the job is much more than just playing, but when you truly engage with a child, as you teach him new skills, the job becomes a joy, and joyful interaction is synonymous with play.  I know this truth every day, because my job is filled with joy, and that's why I truly love my job! 



1.  The video Jacqueline Laurita was tweeting about:


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Noelle Michaels, MA, CCC-SLP, LDT-C
Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist
Special Educator & Learning Specialist

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