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Serious Play and School Improvement

 One of my mentors and now good friends is Dr. Dale Mann, Professor Emeritus at Teachers College, Columbia University.  Dr. Mann got me interested in ed. tech. and I was recently reminded of an incredible article he wrote 12 (twelve!) years ago called Serious Play

I returned to the article because my wife and I are currently involved in trying to figure out an appropriate preschool program for our son.  We found a school that espouses and very clearly practices according to the Reggio Emilia philosophy.  Like the Montessori or Waldorf approaches, play is an important aspect of the experience.  However, at the core of the Reggio Emilia orientation (and explicitly mentioned by the Director of this school) is the idea of learning through play in relations with others and the environment.  In Mann’s language, the emphasis is on the last two developmental stages of play: associative and cooperative play.  That’s what I want my son to be doing and how I want him to be learning in preschool.

This preschool is in the process of merging with an existing K-8 independent school and they say they will be implementing/integrating the Reggio Emilia philosophy in those grades over time.  I don’t know that we’ll enroll our son in the school beyond preschool (who can afford private school anymore?), but it will be interesting to see how the school develops.  The question Dr. Mann asks in the article is: “Play is a serious activity with wonderful developmental benefits.  But if play serves so many purpose so well, why is it not deployed more systematically in the attempt to improve education?”  It’s a great question.


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