Target 1 – Student Centered Learning: FWSU students will engage in personalized learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem-solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step – Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creativity for students.

Indicators of Success – Students and staff will apply existing knowledge to create original works as a means of personal or group expression.

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The technology giant, Google, is well-known for its 20 percent rule. In short, the company puts the most up-to-date expertise, tools and resources at its employees’ disposal and encourages them to apply their own creative thinking to an idea or project that they are passionate about for up to 20 percent of their working hours. This becomes the adult version of play. The concept has been wildly successful, producing some of Google’s most innovative and profitable products, such as Gmail, to name just one.

Google’s “20 percent” concept is not unlike “play” for our children. During play, children have the opportunity to imagine and create scenarios that they are passionate about, resulting in unparalleled student engagement. This becomes the vehicle through which a vast array of social and academic skills are taught and practiced. What might appear to be “just play” is real-world work for a child. When facilitated well, play is saturated with authentic learning of all kinds.

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Imagine, for a moment, three kindergarten students playing in the block area of their classroom. They have created a barn, pasture and farmhouse. They have added miniature animals, a tractor and flowing river made of crumbled blue construction paper. The students have already connected the scene to the four farms that they pass while riding the school bus each day. As their play becomes more and more elaborate, they begin to imagine what life might be like on the farm. One student announces that it has begun to rain and the farm is at risk of flooding. The teacher ensures that others in the group understand the meaning of the word flood. While one student quickly works to build a bridge to safety, another student quickly assembled a rescue helicopter. The third student begins to round up all of the stranded animals, who are ultimately moved to safety along with the farmer and his family.

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In this scenario, children made engaging connections to their real lives. They practiced fine and gross motor skills, along with language and vocabulary development. They engaged in creative problem-solving and cooperation. The students created roles and rules, and worked collaboratively to stay within them. All through play.

In January, 2007, the American Association of Pediatrics affirmed that, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.”  (Read the full study here.)

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The early education programs at Fletcher incorporate play as a critical tool for both academic and social learning. Check out these links for ideas on how families can support their child’s play:

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