As seen in the Alexandria Times on September 8, 2016

Play and Learning Go Hand in Hand at Alexandria Country Day School


School teachers across the country have spent the last several weeks preparing for the start of a new school year.  For teachers of grades K-4 at Alexandria Country Day School, this preparation included reading Purposeful Play by Kristi Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler.  During opening faculty meetings the teachers spent time discussing the themes of the book, including how the skills learned during play contribute to and enhance the academic rigor of the classroom.  There were many ideas shared and much excitement about how the book will influence their work with students both in and out of the classroom this year.

Play and learning are intimately intertwined at any age, but especially in Kindergarten through 8th grade.  Children use play for physical development, but also for cognitive and social development.  Negotiating rules, resolving conflict, exerting judgment, testing limits, and solving problems are all exercised when children engage in unstructured play with their peers.  Additionally there is a direct link between physical activity and cognitive function.  The recent and planned campus improvements at ACDS, including expanded play space and furnishings that encourage physical engagement, were designed specifically to enhance opportunities for both play and learning for its students.

While time for play has been cut back in many schools, ACDS has actually increased time for play in the last couple of years.  Play at ACDS is not simply limited to twice-daily recess, however.  The School’s challenging academic curriculum allows its students to engage in playful inquiry, where they have opportunities to be curious, take risks, discover and take pleasure in surprises, acquire new understanding, and feel empowered by this constructive experience. This playful approach to learning encompasses and encourages curiosity, open-ended and flexible thinking, problem solving, creativity, adventurous exploration, and the discovery and development of passion.  Rigorous and challenging academic learning and the pursuit of understanding can happen in joyful inquiry that looks a lot like play.  And, problem-solving requires lots of “playing” around. The value of play has been borne out as it has become synonymous with the innovation and the creativity that fuels research and development in the professional world.  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, for instance, decided that the characteristics of playfulness were so critical to its engineers’ performance that it started asking applicants how much they played in their childhood, and Google’s playful environment is legend.

“I am thrilled that we are finding more ways to incorporate play into our classrooms and look forward to observing our students taking risks, building self-awareness and becoming more flexible thinkers,” said Mimi Worrell, Interim Head of Lower School.