April 14, 2021

Teacher Tom: I Don’t Know What They Are Learning . . . And Neither Do You

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Seattle-based Teacher Tom works with the littles. In this piece, he offers a perspective on the importance of play, and the damage adults do when they try to know the unknowable.

When I see children on the floor, say, building with blocks, I know they are learning, because that’s what play is: it’s children setting about asking and answering their own questions. Can I stack this block atop that one? Can I make it even higher? Add a roof? Create a room? A zoo? Can I persuade this other person to join me in my vision? Can I join them in theirs? They aren’t saying these things aloud or even in their heads, but it’s quite clear that when humans play, when we freely choose an activity, that is what we are doing, testing the world, performing experiments, seeking answers to questions we ourselves pose. Play is how our instinct to become educated manifests itself, a concept that is supported by more than a century of research and observation performed by the brightest names in education, from Dewey and Piaget to Montessori and Vygotsky.

But as to the question of “what” children are learning at any given moment, the only one who could possibly know is the person who is playing, and the moment we interrupt them to ask, the moment we test them, we forever change it.

You can read this entire short but powerful piece here.

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