Once upon a time in a land far and away, there lived a two-legged stool. This stool knew that it was different than other stools but worked hard to overcome its challenges. It regularly exercised its two strong legs, learning balancing techniques to help it be sat upon, and even went so far as to prop itself against other stools in order to stay upright and become a contributing member of its stool family. However, try as it might it just was unable to retain its balance and meet the needs of its users with just two legs. Then one day a carpenter arrived and went to use the stool. He tried several ways, then realized that the stool had only one problem and that was it was missing a leg: the third leg of the stool. He promptly jumped to work and turned a piece of wood to match the stools first two legs, then added the new third leg. He then adjusted the three legs to support the stool evenly by working together. The stool cried out in joy as all at once the stool began to make better use of the other two legs. And the stool then realized that each leg had an important part to play and that missing one of the three would not allow the other two legs to work efficiently or allow the stool to meet its intended purpose. All at once…having three legs made complete sense of everything and allowed the stool to be its absolute best!
Equally Balanced Play
I have written many times about the importance of play in learning, and how it is an equal player to experience and academics. When equally balanced, each of these three elements of learning provide the most benefit in a child’s education. But this time I thought that telling you a story using some ‘word play’ might make this concept more real to you. A stool with only two legs has difficulty standing, but a stool with three legs of equal size and length can provide total stability with each leg supporting the others.
Maria Montessori said that ‘play is the work of the child.’ We are gifted from almost the beginning with a desire to play as a way to experience the world, and to experiment with what we find. Play helps us hone our executive thinking skills as we combine what we learn academically with experiences we have had. Play essentially allows us to make sense of what is around us, to touch knowledge and generate experiences that keep lessons vivid in our minds. This platform of three learning legs lays a foundation to build upon as we receive more education and experience. Which brings me to meaningful play. In our story above, the reason the third leg worked so well is that it was similar in size and length to the other two. It gave meaning and purpose to the other two legs. Think about it like concentric circles, each having its own purpose but maximizing the effect when they all work collaboratively together.
Play is the Assignment
As your kids head back into this school year, think about what they are doing in the classroom, and how you might supplement that at home with a play-based activity. That doesn’t mean that YOU define the play scenario, but rather you spend time playing with your child in an activity that THEY direct. You can set the stage, but they control the play, helping to further build their executive functioning skills. Working on fractions? Time to order up the two-for-one large pizza deal. Eat one and play with the other by taking pieces on and off the tray that you’ve cut into 16 segments. You get to play with your food and learn something at the same time! Working on reading? Pick a book, read the chapter together, then act out the chapter. Let your child assign you your character. Make props, get goofy, have fun. Remember that you are the third leg in this stool, the one who gets to play and bring the other two legs (academic and experience) into meaningful perspective. How did we get so lucky as parents to get PLAY as our assignment?