Along with the notes about upcoming assessments and projects for my Professional learning Community my inbox included an email from Scholastic about all the cute crafts I could be doing in February. My first thought was, “Do teachers in other schools have time for cute crafts in second grade?” My next thought was “sigh”.
There are two of elementary school’s favorite holidays in the next two weeks: the 100th Day of School and Valentine’s Day. I’ve been trying to manipulate my schedule to allocate 20 minutes of celebration for each. Pathetic. And, by celebration, I mean not tied to the Common Core Standards, not assessed, and with no worksheets in sight. You know, a celebration. Was it always this difficult to have non-academic fun at school? Should it be?
I’ve decided, actually, not to concern myself with that first question. After all, it doesn’t help me at all to pine for the good old days. It’s the second question that matters – should we be able to inject non-academic celebration into our school day? Is it really our role? After two years back full time in the classroom, and endless conversations and observation of other teachers, I can answer confidently with “Yes”. True, school is about learning – that’s our business – but not just about learning what’s on the test. My students, any students, need to learn how to interact with peers, how to engage with people who are very different from themselves, how to play nice even with the person you can barely tolerate. We learn how to navigate the dangerous world of social relationships by working together AND playing together.
When we returned from winter break this year, a new student entered our classroom from Puerto Rico. She did not speak English and barely spoke Spanish through her shyness. But, after two weeks I saw her on the carpet at recess time playing with one of the few girls in class who does NOT speak Spanish. They were putting a puzzle together, chatting away like old friends. The fact that neither girl could understand the other didn’t seem to bother them, they put the puzzle together before the bell rang and smiled at the accomplishment. The next day, they decided to play a word matching game together during Literacy Centers. A few days later, my monolingual Spanish speaker read 3 words in English for me.
Recess is a great time for students of various academic abilities to come together on an equal playing field. So is Valentine’s Day and Dr. Seuss’ Birthday and Talk Like a Pirate Day and all the silly little holidays we can find. Both of those little girls learned something together at recess – that communication is more than words, that they weren’t all that different, that puzzles are fun, that you can learn a language just by listening.
So, next week, we’ll decorate giant pink hearts and write Valentines to friends and family. And along the way, someone might learn how to spell a new word, someone might learn how to get along with an annoying classmate, and someone might learn only that it’s fun to cut paper and glue shapes. Valuable lessons, all.