Saturday, October 20, 2012

Learning to play like kids

There are those moments in teaching where you take a step back and observe yourself as an outsider might- and at those moments you are pretty sure that you would be committed to a mental institution for serious help if anyone else came along. Or just fired, no questions asked.

Yesterday I stood at recess in my fancy-I-have-an-important-meeting-so-I-will-for-once-look-professional-shoes (IE high heels). My teammates and I stood back smiling, saying silent prayers to the recess gods for allowing it to stop raining in time for us to go play on the black top and get some of our Friday energy out. The sun even came out so that we could see our shadows (ever since a science experiment where we made shadows with flash lights we've been obsessed with shadows). The kids were running around chasing each other and screaming, which is technically against the rules (no tag games) but it is so rare for our kids to actually play together and interact like typical kids that we overlooked the pesky rule.

Then I saw that one of my kids wasn't playing with everyone else, but was watching them intently. Finally I realized that she just didn't know how to begin playing with them. She could see that they were having fun and she wanted to join in their game, but she didn't know how to begin. Wanting to teach her play skills that she could use both at school and at the playground near her house I walked over to encourage her to join in the game. Quickly I knew this was going to involve me joining in the game was well. After prompting her to ask if she could play we took off. Grabbing her hand we ran across the blacktop, my blue fancy heels clicking as we went, yelling, AHHHHHH, the zombies are getting us! AHHHHHH, run! as my friend in a wheelchair drove after us pretending to be a zombie.

From a PC standpoint it was a pretty awful game. For one, our school doesn't celebrate Halloween so I am pretty sure playing 'zombie' on the playground isn't really appropriate. Then there is the fact that the 'zombies' were one child in a wheelchair and another child with Down syndrome  Not to mention it was a game of tag which of course is a big no-no in schools these days. So there I am, the teacher, running in my heels, encouraging other children to play zombie tag and run from the children with the most obvious disabilities.

It LOOKED terrible. I can see myself defending my actions to the school board now.

However, the kids really were taking turns being the zombies- it just so happened that when I joined the children with the most obvious disabilities were the zombies. Of course the kids in our classrooms didn't blink an eye- they weren't thinking- get away from the kid in the wheelchair- they were thinking- hey, it's his turn to be zombie- run!

It was the most age-appropriate free play I've ever seen out of my kids. Sure it wasn't totally PC, but how many kids on parks outside of school play total PC games? The kids in our program need to have social skills so that they can interact with their typical peers outside of school as well. If we only teach them to play teacher-led and teacher-approved games we'll only separate them further from their peers. Sure teacher-led games will look pretty, but childhood isn't always pretty. If our kids need to be taught how to play zombie tag, well, let's do it.

The smiles on our kids faces said it all- everyone was excited to take a turn to play zombie- to actually interact with each other instead of standing around passing a ball in a teacher-led (and let's be honest, boring) activity. For once recess looked like a typical general education recess, complete with squeals and laughter. I loved it and they loved it.

My feet, however, did not. The blisters were totally worth it though.

**I should explain that we don't actually have a playground right now. We have a mound of dirt and a black top. Starting a new school means being patient with things like getting playground equipment.**

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