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Play and relationship development are the hallmarks of the culture of childhood. As children play together, we witness their joys, frustrations, anxieties, and intellect. We observe their openness and flexibility of thought. We notice their ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Jean Piaget, a Swiss educator and philosopher, had it right when he said,
"If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society."

It is vital that we commit to protecting the culture of childhood. This does not mean protecting children from risk, failure, or disappointment, but rather giving them the space and freedom to be unfettered by our adult intentions, goals, perspectives, and fears.

During our second Institute this past April, Dr. Ben Mardell, a professor at Lesley University, discussed the Pedagogy of Play and its role in helping children problem solve and consolidate their experiences. He reminded us that play supports children, sustains their attention, and helps them remain focused and engaged in the moment. Play is restorative and reaffirming to children.

I am reminded of this each time the Kindergarten hikes into the forest, and I watch groups of children build structures with campfires "burning" outside. They scale banks and wade through water deep in the imaginative play that they have constructed with their peers.

Research has shown repeatedly that creativity and a spirit of innovation flows from play. Instead of nurturing and respecting childhood, our culture often desecrates it by letting the adult world seep in too early and quickly. It is hard to tap the imagination if there is a bombardment of visuals and sounds fighting for air time in our inner worlds.

Our school sponsored a forum in mid-April at Binford Middle School in the Fan. The intention of the forum was to consider the state of the child in our city of Richmond. The panel spoke on so many important and relative things regarding education, community, safety, and health. It is overwhelming to hear that so many of our children's basic needs are not being met each day. I experienced this, first hand, when I taught at a public school in our city's East end. We would wonder how to teach a child that had spent the night sleeping in a car.

I think that the piece that two of the panelists, Ben Mardell and Lella Gandini (U.S. Liaison for the Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach), brought to the forum was the recognition that there are basic needs of children that are essential to securing this culture of childhood that feed their soul and their mind. Children need to be heard and their thoughts considered, and of course they need to have some time each day to play and connect with their peers. This basic need is not dictated by zip code. It affects all cultures, all races, and all socioeconomic levels. Play is not present in the lives of our children globally.

The International Play Association lobbies around the world for a child's right to play and disconnect, for a period, from the realities and responsibilities of their lives. I found the following information on their website.

The International Play Association (IPA) has long been concerned about the play rights of children experiencing difficult circumstances or challenging environments. Too many of the world’s children face huge barriers in their everyday environments which mean that they have to snatch their chances to play whenever and wherever they can – and sometimes in considerable danger. In situations of crisis, the disadvantages (such as stress, hampered physical and emotional development, feelings of lack of control, loss of trust, etc.) steadily multiply if children lack everyday opportunities for play.

"Children in crisis situations need to experience the restorative qualities of play."

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty that sets out universally accepted rights for children. It is a benchmark against which a nation’s treatment of its children can be measured. It brings together, in one comprehensive code, the benefits and protection for children hitherto scattered in a variety of other agreements, including the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted in 1959. The UN Convention also affirms that human rights contained in other treaties apply equally to children.

The Convention was officially approved by the United Nations in 1989 and has been ratified by every country in the world but two (currently 194). Ratification of the Convention is a commitment by these nations to comply with the articles of the treaty and thereby to protect and enhance the basic rights of children through their policies, programs and services.

This remarkably comprehensive treaty not only incorporates current thinking with regard to children’s rights but also demands that the world think more deeply about children’s position as citizens and more broadly about their development than has commonly been the case. It asks that we look holistically at children’s lives and hear their own perspectives on issues affecting them.

As a result, it is leading many nations to address elements of children’s lives that have hitherto been ignored but that represent our fundamental humanity. One of these – at the heart of children’s lives everywhere – is the right to play.

About the Author: 

Mary grew up inspired to teach by her family of educators. In addition to teaching for over ten years at the lower school level, she spent several years implementing a state Instructional Support Team initiative designed to enhance teachers’ skills in the application of best practice. The initiative sought to provide instructional support through collaboration, problem-solving, and the utilization of data for classroom and school decisions. Subsequently, she continued her work with the Instructional Support Team initiative as a Virginia Department of Education consultant, visiting sites across the state, developing curriculum, training teachers to facilitate local teams, and working to develop assessment and validation tools to evaluate progress at each site. Mary s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in Education from St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia and a master’s degree in Reading Education from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Mary has been teaching Sabot at Stony Point since 2006. "It is a joy to be present with children as they take ownership for their learning in the midst of a collaborative and creative environment." Mary has had an instrumental role in the curriculum development for the Lower School. She was one of several professionals researching, writing and supporting the literacy curriculum and Sabot's progressive student assessment report. Mary has presented at several institutes and conferences including the 16th Annual SURN Leadership Academy, a partnership between the School of Education at the College of William and Mary and Virginia K - 12 school divisions to conduct relevant research and provide professional development in order to provide quality teaching and learning. She has also presented at the Sabot Institutes - Personal Pathways and Paradigms and Time & Place.