Nothing without joy

A child delights in her unearthing of a potato with a head and arms

These words from Loris Malaguzzi resonated in my heart this week as I watched and listened to children’s joyful moments inside and outside the classroom. Children dug up vegetables, learned to print their names for the first time, invented rhyming songs, and played rousing games of ring-around-the-rosy outdoors.  They spoke confidently onstage at a Thanksgiving assembly, constructed bridges and ramps out of hollow blocks and duct tape, and sounded out inventing spelling for signs in their grocery store. They showed each other books they love, captured spiders at the playground, and skipped along the road together holding hands.  They learned many things this week, and it all happened during PLAY.

As educators, we often talk about what we want for children in school. We want them to LOVE to learn, to read for pleasure, to experience the thrill of discovering something new. Yet much of what we say and do in schools is sending a message to children that learning is something reserved for those who work hard, reading is about getting to the next level, and discovery, well frankly there just isn’t much of that happening when the teacher plans a predetermined activity with predetermined outcomes.

Play-based learning, discovery learning, inquiry-based leaning, project-based learning, experiential learning, hands-on learning — it all means basically the same thing. Children are constructing their own thinking in their own ways in their own time.  That’s HOW they learn,  whether we like it or not.

Expecting children to acquire skills and knowledge on a tightly structured timeline that is decided upon by adults is akin to planting a handful of apple seeds and expecting them all  to sprout, grow, and produce apples at the same time. Nature and children simply don’t work that way. If we want growth, we need to provide the conditions for growth. We need to support them when they look a little stressed. We need to observe them carefully and respond to them as needed.  We need to try to improve their environment for maximum growth.

Reading joyfully to a friend using the pictures

But what about reading and writing? This is what I always seem to be asked when defending play-based learning or inquiry-based learning for children. Now don’t get me wrong. Learning to read is important. But LOVING reading is more important, trust me. I can teach children how to read easily once they are interested in learning how to read. The process becomes much more difficult when I try to teach them when they are not interested. That’s why I encourage children to find books they love, so that they will want to learn how to read them.

Learning to write is also essential. But WANTING to write is way more essential. Children need a reason to write: to share what they think and what they want others to know.  Every representation, every squiggle, every detail is them wanting to record their thinking, to make it for others to see.

I was asked to help write these labels for the grocery store.

Children’s literacy experiences, as they arise in their play, are joyful experiences. Successfully sounding out CREL for cereal for a sign in a grocery store is a meaningful literacy experience. When they associate their play with literacy, they come to know that reading and writing are what people do in the real world, and they are motivated to learn to read and write in authentic ways.

Reading with joy. Writing with joy. Nothing without joy.




Cathy Baker View All →

Dedicated teacher for the past 18 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy

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