I consider structure and thoughtful planning to be important parts of a positive school day, but, as I discovered again today, sometimes an unexpected, impromptu discussion is far superior to my best planning. This is what happened:
Each day, lunch is followed by a short “play anything” recess. While monitoring this non-structured break time today, I enjoyed watching a group of about eight active youngsters from grades 1-3 involved in delightfully imaginative play. Happy laughter regularly punctuated the entire scene as a basketball became their coconut and a stick their machette to (gently) cut it into enough pieces for each one. The gravel area became a lake, and a bottle filled with sand turned into an elegant drink offered to me. I thrilled to the wholesome beauty of the creativity. It is an example of what I often call “homespun fun.”
When the recess bell rang, I walked back into the building, pondering the delight of this playground scene. Suddenly I remembered my sister, who was working years ago as a para in a center for at-risk preschoolers. She talked about the importance of imaginative play in a child’s proper brain development. She and her co-workers frequently had to teach these at-risk preschoolers how to play. Whether that was because of mental or physical handicaps these youngsters were born with, or if it was the result of a constant TV and movie diet, I don’t know. What I do remember is the startling thought that play time is vital for brain development. Not just any play, but real play time, the kind that uses a child’s active engagement and imagination rather than its counterfeit that merely requires pushing buttons to make lights flash.
Since my mind was full of these thoughts, I begin the afternoon class by telling the students the story of my sister working with preschoolers who did not know how to play. That was followed, of course, with a brief recounting the beautiful imaginative play I had just witnessed. Already well familiar with the term “homespun fun,” they readily connected those stories and my further comments of the damage glitzy things like lots of computer games and movie time do to our brains. They listened attentively and then begin to offer personal comments. One promptly volunteered, “Since I have my own tablet, [a Christmas gift] it is easy to spend way too much time on it. I need to stop doing it so much!” I felt startled by her openness; I had not even asked for a heart response. But immediately a classmate enthusiastically added, “When we watch too many movies, it gets boring! Heads nodded and hands waved ready to offer further comments that reflected their understanding and agreement with the concept that too much glitz makes us grumpy and leaves us dissatisfied.
Although this worthwhile discussion was not on the agenda for the day, the less weighty plans readily stepped aside to accommodate the opportune moment. I sensed the presence of God as we talked. He was the one who helped the students understand both what I had said and what I hadn’t yet thought to say. And He is the one who planned what I would not have been able to—an important, impromptu conversation about real life issues.
CONTRIBUTOR: Betty Yoder