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Play, Let's Chat!

Tonight I am hosting a #WePlayChat with the US Play Coalition. Check out some details here:

One of the questions is around the idea of equity. In play, we talk about how kids playing with pretend guns in the front yard is “free play” and shouldn’t be quashed. But we’re looking through White, Middle Class (or even upper class) lenses. When realistically, for some kids, playing guns in the wrong place at the wrong time can (and has) gotten them murdered, by those that have sworn to protect and serve, by virtue of their skin color alone. Thus equity in our society drastically influences freedom in play. Play is not equal. It should be. A four year old should be as free to play in one lawn as in any other. But that’s not how society- our society with systemic racism and bias- works, not in our reality. Not yesterday. Not today. And no, likely not tomorrow. How do we explain to our children that one child can play one way, but to another, that play is dangerous, life and death?

As educators and child care professionals, how does equity influence our opinions of play? When two White girls are wrestling and play fighting—do you intervene? How does the situation change if two Black boys are wrestling and play fighting? Does the “who” matter? Can you be honest with yourself? For most, the description invokes a different reaction. But as you discipline these two sets of children, who were playing in a similar manner, consider the lessons being taught. Are the children being taught more about their behavior and its corresponding consequences or about their color or gender? What is demonstrated for those children, all four of those children, and what is the impact on their ethical development? 

What came first, our misshapen beliefs of equity or freedom in play?  Systemic racism has shaped our society from childhood and taught us to fear Black Joy. It has conditioned us that Black Joy is something to be stomped out and not embraced. When we should be enthralled, we watch in horror. This is systemic and culturized white supremacy. This is deep rooted racism, so ingrained that we don’t even recognize it, until it is pointed out. And then often, as White teachers, our reaction is denial, “why I’d never!” But we have. And we did. And we will again. Unless we actively take steps to engage in anti-racism. Not just in words, but in deeds. And not just in academics, but in PLAY. 

Friends, step back. Embrace the play, the rough-housing, the joy. Watch with eyes wide open and see PLAY and JOY in our children. And let that joy translate into the classroom. The two children tapping and beating together while working are not off topic. They are playing and creating rhythm to engage their minds. The children moving and dancing while working out problems are expressing verve. As children engage in everyday play, both in and out of the classroom, the steps we take to welcome all ethnic and cultural expressions of play supports students’ growth in so many ways.



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