I’ve talked about the power of play in relation to early literacy and the Babies Need Words Every Day campaign. Today, I want to talk about the importance of the deliberate use of play with school-age children and adolescents.
When we talk about play and creativity in the library, we often talk about young children. And why not? Play is one of Every Child Ready to Read’s five practices. Once children hit kindergarten, though, we talk about makerspaces. We talk about STEM. Even though these are steeped in self-discovery in the library, the overt goal is to educate. Or, at least, add to our evidence that the library helps children “learn” by the academic definition. And for good reason: It’s clear that libraries have resonated with stake holders about their role in early literacy education. The next obvious step is to show that we make an academic difference with school-age children. Some libraries do pre- and post-tests to prove Summer Reading helps prevent the Summer Slide. I’ve created outreach with measurable alignment to State Standards.
But it’s important not to lose the very real fact that play has non-academic benefits. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may notice that even saying this signals a huge shift in my thinking over the past year or so. Down to the deepest parts of my heart and soul, I am an educator who was born out of the public school system and for all its faults I will defend what is considered a public school classroom until at least the end of this sentence, and probably after that. I will give you that it’s not for every single individual; but public education has never been about The Single Individual, anyway.
That’s why I think it may feel so critical to me that I separate the library from its possible academic benefits here. Play has so many additional benefits, especially for school-age children and adolescents who come from backgrounds in trauma: those who live with food insecurity or transiency, those who live with toxic stress, those who live in volatile or neglectful environments. Those who may not have a space to play. Basically, a lot of the kids and teens who come into our libraries whether we’re aware of it or not.
If we wanted more deliberately center our school-age and teen programming around play in a non-academic way, what could we say to justify it?