Playing School

In a school like ours, where students can spend their time however they wish (as long as they are abiding by the rules), it may be surprising that sometimes the kids choose to play “school.” One such play session happened recently, and was delightful and interesting to watch.

First, roles had to be decided. In this case, the oldest girl in the group, 10-year old Destiny, was christened as the teacher, and 8-year old Amelia was the principal. Apparently, the principal’s job is to sit at a desk and not be bothered by anyone. Destiny placed our chalkboard easel at the end of a long table and her attentive students, ranging from 5 to 8 years old, sat with pencils ready to soak in her teaching. She decided to teach them about vowels, writing on the board and asking others to provide any words they could think of. She demonstrated where the vowels were and asked the students to repeat after her.

But, of course, no school would be complete without recess, so after a few minutes of instruction, Destiny released the kids for a 15 minute play time. She continued to act as the teacher on the playground, instructing the kids not to play rough and reminding them to be careful (words she has, no doubt, heard countless adults say). In due time, Destiny rounded up her students and brought them back inside, this time to learn some multiplication tables.

Playing school is one rather overt way that older students impart their knowledge to younger students. And, although some of the kids involved in the play have attended a traditional school, many had never sat at a classroom desk. Yet, they were able to sit attentively, raise their hands to be called on, and exhibit many of the skills that adults are afraid they won’t learn in a school like ours and therefore won’t be prepared for a college class (turns out that those skills aren’t that difficult when you actually want to be a part of the class). The staff were also interested in the adult-child relationships that were being presented, and that control was a big factor. This is the typical experience that children have of adults — one of control and direction. The difference with playing school is that when the “students” are done with the game, they stop playing. This lesson is one we at The Open School are endeavoring to impart: you can choose to be controlled by others or to be autonomous. But you are the one who makes that choice.

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