At the end of each after school enrichment class, kids create a Play Story, reflecting on their play.
The idea for Play Stories came from AnjiPlay, centered around the Kindergarten practices in Anji County, China. One of the many innovative ideas coming from these schools is a daily practice of post-play session reflection. We use the same term as they do at AnjiPlay - Play Stories - although the practice may be different in our different contexts. This idea keeps evolving for us through each session as teachers, kids, and parents share their thoughts on the practice with us.
A play story can be a drawing, or a sketch; it can be letters or words. It might be a scribble, and it might be a detailed drawing. It may be inventive spelling, strings of letters that represent sounds in the words a child wants to write. Right now, a Play Story is a visual reflection on a Play Lab session. We offer kids blank paper and a black felt-tip pen to represent their work.
We find that a lot of children like to draw something representative, like the objects they played with. Some play stories are about the social aspect of the child’s play: a drawing of children playing together, or perhaps of a conflict around materials or disagreement with another child. Some children lean on the word “story” and begin a full page of writing with once upon a time…
Regardless of how they start or finish, or what happens on the page, we respect the diverse ways that kids express themselves visually.
Reflection is a core value at Play Lab. Children are articulate: it looks and sounds different at certain ages and stages, but when adults allow kids the time and space, and we stop to listen, it is obvious kids have things to share about their world.
They are actively learning about how things work on their own terms through play, so Play Stories are an opportunity for kids to show us what they mean, and what they have discovered. Rather than make assumptions about children’s learning, we ask them to show us. It isn’t always easy to do that verbally, so we offer kids another language for expression.
Another reason for Play Stories is the value of documentation. Kids are learning about their world through play, and they are the only ones who can tell us tangible stories about their play based learning. These are the most important stories: the ones the kids tell. At Play Lab we are deeply motivated by these play stories: they are a reminder that play is valuable, and it needs real advocacy. This helps us make the program more intentional as we plan more sessions with more kids in more schools.
The stories get beyond the materials to the work that we know kids are doing in Play Lab. Kids work hard at problem solving, persevering through difficult tasks (of their own choosing) to realize their vision.
We ask kids to create a Play Story in their folder each week at the end of the Play Lab session. Then, we ask the child to tell us about it. We make a little note on a post it - their words, not our interpretation - then it gets stuck right to the story page.
We find that even the most reluctant writers and illustrators - the ones who cringe a little when we say we’ll be writing - warm up to Play Stories eventually because there is no wrong way to do it. This is another core value of Play Lab: in a world where there is no one right way or wrong way to do something, we can relax a bit. Kids approach their Play Stories joyfully if it doesn’t feel like an assignment.
We reflect on everything we do at Play Lab, and we are always tweaking and changing our process based on what we learn. Right now, we are thinking about how to find even more languages for kids to share their play stories using different media. Video? Audio? A camera for kids to take their own photographs? As much as reluctant kids warm up to the idea of play stories, we want to make sure they are still a valuable part of the process, not just a product that needs to be created for the sake of documentation at Play Lab. Children’s play is at the center of this work, and we need to check in with ourselves constantly to make sure that is reflected in the curriculum.