How playing with your kids forms connections

My first  6 years teaching were all spent at the same school, in the same grade. I was single for over half of those years, and did not have children for any of them. I don’t think by any stretch having or not having kids makes or breaks a teacher, but for me – not having kids during those first years somehow was an integral part of shaping the teacher I would be. 

I actually didn’t want children of my own – I absolutely LOVED giving myself to my students every day. I’m now a very happy mother of 3 who, balanced (somewhat wobbly) homeschooling and being a classroom teacher. My classroom experience shaped my homeschool and then when I returned to the classroom, my homeschooling refined my classroom teaching. But today I’m reflecting back on those early years, the very early ones, before I even held a credential in fact. 

When I reflect back on those first years I’m flooded with memories of “those poor kids” as well as – I wish we could go back to those simple days! Through the magic of technology I am blessed to be in contact with many former students from those “early” years. As far as I know none of them blame me too terribly for how their lives turned out! 

Every year I had at least 38 students. Some years 43! Private schools don’t have the same limits of public schools. If  the desks could fit, I taught them! 

My room had the desks that were connected to the chairs so the cute little groups other teachers made with their tables and chairs were not an option for me. I had  boring rows.

One afternoon to spice things up we took our books outside and sat on the grass in a big circle and read. I would walk around this big circle of students, so I could hear them read, and see them all.

One day as I was walking…I got the urge to tap their heads… Duck..Duck..Duck… (I did this right in the middle of their reading mind you)… GOOSE – 

I ran as fast as I could, but even my 20 something self was no match for a 4th grader! The laughter and excitement was OUT OF CONTROL! (in a good way) They wanted to know what was happening. I said they had been doing such a good job I thought we should take a break and play – it was afterall a BEAUTIFUL day outside. So I sat down in the circle, and the “Goose” took over…. We played for the remainder of the class period, then noisily returned to the classroom to finish out our day. 

You know as well as I do, my class of 40+ students wanted to know when we could play again. I told them we would indeed, but next time we would need to finish our reading first. My classroom was situated in an area that was blessed with grass just outside and behind, it wasn’t the playground but more the side yard of the school. In the late 1990s times were simpler, I will admit, but the habit of “playing” with my students (or my own children) never left in all my years of teaching. It wasn’t ever Duck, Duck, Goose again actually. Every class got their own special something. 

I did get in a tiny bit of “hot water” because the office had called down to my classroom and they could not find us. The secretary had to walk down – the noise coming from the side yard was a dead giveaway. I learned to call the office and let them know where we would be! No phones in our pockets in 1997! My play time was never thwarted by administration, nor did I ever get a complaint that I was using academic time for “PE”, play or other such time wasting from parents. 

Lest you think I’m some Mr. Rogers – I’m far from it. But having fun, playing, and connecting was always more important to me than standards, testing and homework. Always. The more interesting and “real” I could make my lessons the better.

The year I was trying to remember to drink water and exercise – we stopped at the 55 minute mark of every hour we could and did jumping jacks, ran in place or another little exercise. I had no idea what a “brain break” was, but my students were taking them before it was trendy, I can tell you that! 

Getting all our end of the day “chores” done and backpacks packed was easy when the disco balls could come out and we could spend the end of the day having a dance party. 

Each class was motivated by something different and unique. In fact, one class wasn’t anything other than they all had nicknames. ALL except ONE poor girl. To this day I try to think of something clever to call her, but nothing pops in my head. That’s her claim to fame surrounded by the likes of  “Dead Dan” and “NoNo Joe”  and my “Genius”  she’ll still mention from time to time how she didn’t have a name. 

In my homeschool I had the “Kid of the Day”  and the Energy Bucket (like a marble jar) – but something special was always going on so we didn’t get LOST in the learning! It was a simple as sitting with my kids and eating lunch WITH them, rather than doing chores while THEY ate. I sat next to the kid of the day.

The trick for these connections to work in your home or classroom is you have to participate in the play. Just turning on the disco balls so my class could have a dance party wasn’t it. I was dancing too. The kids LOVED to make me the goose in duck-duck-goose because they would always win. But I played!

The best homeschool year by far was indeed the year of holiday learning that has inspired Homeschool Holiday. Even what may seem like an ordinary holiday can be a reason to PLAY together. Check out our Calendar of Holidays and pick 2 or 3 to incorporate into your home or classroom this month! Watch those connections form!

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