Imagining play over a zoom call may sound bizarre at first. When I think of play, immediately thoughts of brightly colored playgrounds, tag, and high fives come to mind. I hear laughing in the background, and smiling faces fill my mind’s eye. When we take out the option of playing in person, picturing this incredibly positive image becomes increasingly difficult. With our students sitting in their homes, their parent’s offices, or wherever they are able to log in remotely to their classes, the concept of incorporating play into the normal school day becomes a challenge. How do we inspire joy and growth in our children through play behind their computer screens?
Working as a Playworks Coach, I ask myself this question each time I step through the doors of my school, and Playworks has equipped me to help fill a student’s essential need to play and interact with their peers even from a virtual space.
This week I am working with an effective needs class at my assigned elementary school to facilitate lessons focused on social emotional learning and play. For my lesson on teamwork and sportsmanship, I logged into Google Meet at my usual time and greeted my students and their teacher. One student, we will call him Jack for anonymity’s sake, entered the call and immediately put his head down on his desk.
Jack was clearly not having his best day. He was exhausted and unmotivated to participate in the day’s lesson. Let’s face it. We have all been there at one point for whatever reason that may have been.
Ms. C (Jack’s teacher) and I encouraged Jack to participate from behind our computer screens. He was partially receptive, standing up when it was time to find a safe place to play and doing helicopter arms, but once we began a game or activity, the next thing I saw was the top of Jack’s hood in front of the camera.
The focus of the day was teamwork, and one game that I incorporated into the lesson was the Maze Game. The objective of the game is for the students and their teacher to work together to find a path through a series of dots placed strategically on a Google Slide. Using the directions Up, Down, Left, and Right, student’s guess which way to go through the maze cheering each other on and working together to reach the gold star at the end. When students are successful in their guesses, they are able to guess again. If they are unsuccessful, good job, nice try! The next teammate gets to try their luck.
At the beginning, Jack was not at all enthused with the game. He kept saying he didn’t know which way to go in the maze or that he was not smart enough. Ms. C and I encouraged Jack to try his best and play, at first to no avail. The class continued taking turns at guessing the maze’s path with Jack begrudgingly giving his input on occasion. Finally, the team was successful enough to reach the last few circles of the maze. It was Jack’s turn to give it a go. Four successful guesses later, Jack led his team to reach the gold star at the end of the maze.
A smile came to Jack’s face, and I saw an energy in him that I hadn’t seen all day. His enthusiasm was now contagious, spreading toothy grins to all of our faces. Virtual high fives and good jobs were shared all around.
I left work that day with an even stronger feeling of purpose and satisfaction in my job as a Playworks Coach. Jack’s renewed energy affirmed in my mind that we can in fact bring play to our students despite the change in setting. With a bit of resilience, empathy, and creativity we can and will have play continue to exist and shape our students’ experiences every day.