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August 26, 2021

Incorporating Play Into Your Life As An Educator

Last year, mid-September, I realized something was missing from my daily appearance — my smile.

I was going through the motions of teaching and doing an effective job, yet I found myself unable to laugh. It was as if my intense focus on academics masked my enjoyment of teaching, and all at once I realized laughter was absent from my classroom.

Once this enjoyment diminished, it was harder than I imagined to get this fun “groove” back. I desperately wanted to reinstate my internal enjoyment, both for myself, selfishly, but also for my students. I understood that laughter was contagious and would help my students to feel comfortable and content at school. As my to-do list mounted, and I became bogged down with meetings, giving feedback, and writing lesson plans, I became even more desperate for the return of my smile, yet it became only more elusive.

This September, I’m intentionally focusing on play and laughter as my monthly goal. Engaging in more frequent play has already started to make me more relaxed. I’m enjoying my family, finding my own creativity, accepting failure, and developing new friendships. All of this is contributing to a sense of optimism and internal peace, allowing for more frequent smiles.

My Play Goals

Focus on Play in Your Family

As a single mom, most of my at-home time is spent doing laundry, making meals, and preparing for the following day. This month, I’m attempting to be more efficient with my time. Whenever possible, even when I’m in the middle of a task, if one of my children asks me to play, I focus on attempting to stop what I’m doing and play with them, or else determine a time to play during that day. Feeling like a more engaged mom in terms of play, helps me come to school feeling like I have more to give to the teachers and students there as well. Without the negative self-talk that comes when I feel I’m not giving enough to my own children, I’m more relaxed and at ease. I can smile more frequently and respond with patience and an open mind to the teachers and children with whom I work. This month, I have a goal of trying one new “play” activity each week, with my family.

kids playing with homemade slime

Homemade slime. And, yes, their hands are dyed from food coloring.

Play at Recess

For the first time in six years, I’m working at an elementary school. Recess is now a daily occurrence. As a student, I was one of the best four square and wall ball players on the playground. Granted, I haven’t exactly played in 20 years, but there’s no time like the present to take it back up. This month, I plan on going to recess once a week, engaging in friendly competition, and building trust with the students that helps to foster positive relationships. As I engage in recess, I firmly believe that my inner child will be revitalized, resulting in tremendous smiles (and hopefully no pulled muscles or twisted ankles).

Staff Community Builders

I’m new to my building this year and perhaps overly anxious about developing new friendships to help ease my transition. The more connected I feel to my colleagues, the more I feel encouraged to both come to work and, more importantly, to be productive and positive while at work. My staff has already invited me to a Bunko party and I was instantly filled with joy as I learned to roll dice, yell “Bunko,” and celebrate being at the winner’s table. To return the gesture, I’m inviting teachers to come to the gym where I teach dance fitness, and take a dance class with me. While this isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, for those staff members who are ready to work out and smile, we can all do this together. I’m making sure to get them in for free and extending the offer, but not forcing it. Developing a sense of TEAM doesn’t just happen while at school. Being a team means that we’re a family of sorts, sharing in joyous moments outside of school, too.

Professional Development with a Design Challenge

Gone are the days of icebreakers, where eye rolls are abundant. This year, our principal engaged us with a design challenge to help demonstrate collaboration norms. He put together bags of spaghetti, toothpicks, marshmallows, and straws, and gave us ten minutes to design the tallest freestanding structure that would hold a plastic tub and weights. Though intense and stressful, you could hear the collective ooohs and ahhhs across the room. Everyone was standing. Educators were smiling. This reminded me that giving educators creative freedom leads to joyous moments. When working with this bunch of creative educators, I’ll try to find opportunities to elevate their creativity, and even better, their collective, collaborative creativity, in the same way our principal did with this design challenge.

pasta tower

Find the Joy in the Crazy Moments

I suppose, all too often, I want life to be perfectly perfect. I admire women who somehow know how to wear the perfect outfit, discipline their students/children effortlessly, and have a calm demeanor in life’s most stressful moments. However, as much as I admire those things, they simply do not reflect who I am at my core. My family and I have BIG personalities that can overtake a room if left unchecked. We are spirited, dressing up for Halloween, and role playing with fictitious monsters. All too often, I see moments like the one pictured below as disruptions rather than opportunities for joy and laughter. My challenge for myself this month is to identify a crazy moment, as it’s happening, and to simply go with it, without hesitation and without defining the moment as abnormal or deviant.

vampire teeth

Somehow, what I’ve lost is the child within me. At 33, I’m well into the phase of my life where overwhelming responsibility is my norm. Yet, as I come off of summer, a time in which play is at the core of each day, I’m encouraged to keep this trajectory this school year, as I identify my moments of joy. I’m intentionally planning on greeting these unexpected moments with a smile and joyous laughter. I’m ready for my productivity to grow even more as my sense of self increases through play.

Perhaps laughter is what makes the heart grow fonder. Perhaps, if we all laughed a little more, we could reduce a few criticisms and replace that negative stress with positive memories.

How do you incorporate play into your school day or life beyond school? Why is this important to you?

Share your stories and photos via Twitter and Instagram. Mention Crystal @themathdancer and @TeachingChannel — and don’t forget to tag it #TchWellness.


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