Play-based Learning: Not Just for Kids

By Mauricia Savella

A few weeks after the arrival of her second child, one of the moms in our classroom at our co-op preschool lamented that despite her best efforts, her three-year-old son wasn’t taking it all as well as she had hoped. He wasn’t just disinterested in the baby—he seemed to downright dislike him, and had on more than one occasion become physically aggressive towards her as she stood changing her newborn’s diaper or sat nursing. “Of course I get that our routine is off, and that’s hard for them at this age, but the anger I just don’t get—he’s never been an angry kid.” Another mom piped right up. “Our midwife put it this way,” she said. “Imagine that your husband comes home from work one day and says, ‘I have the most wonderful news: we’re adding to the family! I have a new girlfriend who will be coming to live with us on Friday. She’s cute, sweet, loving and I can’t wait for you to meet her.’ Might that ruffle your feathers?” It was an instant “aha!” perspective shift for everyone in the group.

Since then I’ve caught myself employing the same tactic from time to time when my own preschooler displays seemingly particular behavior. Protesting clean-up after snack time seems much less over-the-top when I consider how I would feel if, without warning, someone suddenly ran a cold, wet wipe over the bottom half of my face. And the inevitable whimpers that accompany the practice of sharing are altogether understandable when I imagine a stranger grabbing my iPhone from my hands at the park and hearing, “She’ll give it back. Let her have a turn. It’s so nice when we share!” Viewed through this lens, we don’t seem so different after all, children and adults. I too expect to wake up where I fell asleep, and would probably start screaming if I opened my eyes tomorrow morning in the backseat of my car rather than my bed; I really dislike broccoli, despite its rave nutritional reviews, and I’m NOT EATING IT even if you sing me a song about it—no, ESPECIALLY if you sing me a song about it—and, sorry, no one else is allowed to pick which pants I wear today. Or tomorrow. Or ever.

This has been a most enlightening discovery. Who knew? The little lady in my life is not entirely deserving of the playful “Doc McFussins” nickname, because as it turns out, a fair share of what she complains about is legitimately complaint-worthy. The culprit in question may not always be a) a total mystery, b) a later-than-normal nap, or c) the odd sugar-laden lollipop disguised as a tube of yogurt. No, the villain at hand may at times be a parent who isn’t connecting all the dots and thinking it through. (Yep….me.) However, I’m pleased to report that when a meltdown starts now, the questions I silently ask myself aren’t the familiar, reactive, “Why me? Why here? Why now?!” They are instead proactive contemplations: “How would I feel about this? Can I find a parallel trigger in my own life?” Being able to relate holistically to my child’s frustration makes all the difference in how I respond to her in moments of stress and confusion. “I don’t like having things taken from me either. Let’s get your toy back, and we can talk with the little boy about sharing. If you decide that it’s not something you want to share, let’s put it away to keep it safe.”

And it hasn’t escaped my attention that this evolution in parenting came not from a book, or a child-rearing workshop, but from a conversation—one of many open dialogues that take place on any given day as we work in the classroom. Would I have come to the above awareness on my own? Maybe eventually. But it’s so comforting to know that I can speak my truth about life as a parent and receive support, encouragement and ideas from the parents in our classroom—people whose values I know I share because we work and play alongside one another on a regular basis. There’s a section of tile wall on our campus that reads “All Children Are Our Children” and it’s a sentiment I’ve integrated joyfully, not only because of its obvious moral correctness, but the fact that it resonates with the pleasure we all feel as we share the work, play and fun together. Who knew? Play-based learning isn’t just for kids.

Mauricia Savella is a freelance copywriter and copyeditor, and stay-at-home UMC Nursery School co-op Mom to Malia, 11, and Alona, 4.