As an educator with three decades of experience I often reflect on what makes good learners. I can’t help going back to what were the most valuable lessons that I learned while at school and all of them were learned on the playground.
Play taught me to learn from my mistakes. I learned several games at school or was rather pushed in to play hockey and basketball by my P E coach who knew that I was great at short sprints. I was doing very well in academics. My father was a keen University footballer and anxious that we should do well in sports. I drew a lot of inspiration from him but most importantly venturing out on the playfield taught me that is was alright to make mistakes- and learn from them. I hated the little crosses in red in my notebooks but playing on the field taught me that those little red crosses were alright because they showed me that I was learning.
Play strengthened my resilience. To be beaten down and then to stand up again is a life lesson that all of us must learn. No classroom teaching can get you anywhere as close to learning this as the playground. I learned to hang in there because I believed that I could get it right. I believed that things would get better. I believed that skills could be learned. The scaffold of optimism and self-belief holds up resilience. Once learned, resilience comes to your aid throughout life. As a youngster I had always wanted to learn horseback riding but it wasn’t until thirty that I got an opportunity to learn to do so. At thirty, I didn’t let the bucking horse throwing me down time and again, prevent me from learning to ride. The exhilaration of the first Hunt I participated in still lives on.
Play helped me value collaboration. It was when I played hockey that I learned that sometimes you can’t go it alone. You need the entire team behind you even if you are racing ahead to the goalpost. You need to pass, you need to take chances, dodge an opponent, collaborate with every member on the team as you try to shoot the goal. And then you miss! You learn to shoulder the blame together just as much as you revel in the victories.
Play taught me that it is just one game. The hardest lessons were those of loss. Of pain. Of disappointment. The take away was that it was just one game. We would live to see another day. I was able to transfer that into the classroom and not be overcome by not doing brilliantly on every single test. It was just another one. I have learnt to pick up life’s pieces and rearrange them to create another version of myself each time. I like the way I am able to come together again and I am thankful for the lessons I learned on the field.
Play kept me hungry for competition. I learned that I could test my skills on the playfield with others who were better than I was. I hungered for competition to raise my standards and therefore I enjoyed taking tests and assessments in class. The right answers never mattered to me. I was eager to know what mistakes I had made and how I could correct them.
Play taught me that there will never be mastery. This was a lesson learned very slowly. I was anxious to gain mastery and be perfect in what I did. It was several years later that on reflection I knew that mastery does not exist. No one is a master and there is always more to learn as the world changes and demands that we evolve.
I advocate play- purposeful play that leads to learning both inside and outside the classroom. There is much more to be learned from play than what the naked eye perceives. The most life-worthy learning has originated in play and strengthened my core and I bow my head in gratitude to all those who changed my life because they believed in the power of play.