What I Learned from Playground Tag

May 1, 2015

(Photo: Center for Inspired Teaching)

This piece was written by Kien Nguyen, Inspired Teaching’s Development and Communications Intern.

I grew up and went to school in a small city just 35 miles outside Hanoi, Vietnam. In elementary school, my day was mostly spent inside the classroom, copying notes from the board and answering the teacher’s questions. My favorite part of the day, though, was the time when we kids would play on the school’s playground.

Our playground was simple; it was a big open concrete space with trees planted in crisscrossing lines. The school only had a few gym supplies so it was mostly up to the kids to bring a jump rope or a soccer ball from home. My favorite game was “don,” which is a lot like what you call “tag” in the US. Don consists of two teams: one that chases and tags and one that gets chased and tagged. There is a home base where people are safe from being tagged. Once all the members of one team are captured, the roles of the two teams are switched.

I loved this game because my passion was running. My friends and I would run our hearts out during the fifteen-minute recess. After this time, I would come back to class pumped up and ready to tackle problems again. Playing don helped me concentrate better, and it taught me important lessons. It taught me about teamwork. If I played for the chasing team, my friends and I would work out a plan to block the paths of the runners and capture them using collective efforts. Don also taught me to use strategy and to analyze situations. When I was on the team getting chased, I would often use my speed to be the runner attracting the opposite team’s attention, so that my teammates could go free our captured teammates.

I was reminded how important play was to me as a learner when I visited the Inspired Teaching Demonstration Public Charter School as part of my internship at Inspired Teaching. In one pre-K class, there were two girls playing with sand. I approached them and asked them what they were trying to build. They said it was a cake. At first, the answer surprised me, but I soon realized that there don’t need to be any limits on things you can build using sand. In another part of the room, another group of kids were building ramps out of building blocks and talking about how fast a ball would go down the different ramps. In a higher level class, kids were all enthusiastically taking part in a team game of ball organized by teachers.

All the students were engaged, and without text books or pencils, they were all learning. During free play time, kids get to be bakers, builders, athletes, artists, or engineers. Kids are free to use their imaginations to discover what they want to do, what they can already do, and what they still need to learn.

Having time for play was always an important part of my school experience, but students today have fewer opportunities.

A growing body of clinical research concludes that play is essential to the social, emotional, and physical development of children. . . . But those minutes have been steadily eroding. Up to 40 percent of US school districts have reduced or eliminated recess in order to free up more time for core academics, and one in four elementary schools no longer provides recess to all grades.

– The State of Play Report, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, p. 4 (2010)

Research shows that play is important to student growth. In my own life, play encouraged me to be a more active, healthier person and helped me perform better in classroom. Let’s give play the recognition it deserves as a powerful tool that should be used inside and outside the classroom both in the US and in nations like my home country of Vietnam.

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