The values of Playness pedagogy in kindergartens and schools

17 March, 2016

Recently, the media is full of discussions about our values. But I cannot get rid of the feeling that the more we pay lip service to values, the less we are aware of what keeps them alive. Psychologically speaking we may say that values are the category of fundamental reasoning and beliefs that guides our behaviour, and also shows us the path forward if we are at the crossroads where various options and tools are available. Values could also be understood as the generators of unlimited energy which give us strength and stamina to follow our goals. Philosophically speaking, from the viewpoint of ethics, values can be explained as some kind of ideals stripped of the contextual. They show us light in darkness, provide meaning in the face of emptiness, and give us a clue if we find ourselves in a moral dilemma. The ideal version of the value works as a concentrate that needs to be dissolved in the context of particular life circumstances before digestion. Values should direct us towards what is good. But how do we define what is good? This is, I believe, an eternal question that every individual has to face on the path towards moral maturity. And there is no one answer, at least not in philosophy of Playness. My good old friend Aristotle said that the good is that which is aligned with a virtue. And the virtue is the mean between exaggeration on one side and lack on the other. In a nutshell, we can say that the good action is the action that activates the proper measure, not too much and not too little. The virtues though are our values.

Courage is the virtue often at stake when we guide physical activity or sport lessons in kindergarten. Namely, the toddlers and young children are for the first time experiencing certain circumstances, tasks, their bodies in new forms of movement, the laws of movement and characteristics of the objects around them. That is why for example to jump down from the bench or to climb the wall or ladder is primarily a test of courage and most often not so much of motoric capabilities. In such a particular case the value of Playness pedagogy is to set up such a challenging environment that all the children will test their courage in executing the motor task. Even though children in kindergarten might be just a few months apart regarding the age, their individual growth and development might be pretty far apart. That is why – and we have just tested this yesterday in a group of 2 years old Caterpillars – to walk on the bench and then jump down on the mat might be an easy task for some, and quite a challenging and difficult motor and psychical task for others. So how should the Playness teacher react in such situations in order to positively influence courage? Well in our case, we gave the ones who were confident in walking and jumping from the bench an extra task. They were instructed to hold a small hula hoop as a steering wheel all the way during walking on the bench and then also during jumping. And to those who didn’t have the courage to jump off, we offered a hand to grip for or just a hand touch to feel safe. We repeated the task several times and then we included also a few steps of climbing and rewarded the completed mission with a short gliding at the end. That is how self-confidence is boosted, the knowledge how to solve typical situations is strengthened, and the trust in their own abilities, self-sufficiency and autonomy in overcoming challenging tasks is increased.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Mark Twain

Before we go on to define the second value, let us briefly consider the mean of what is courage. Good old grandfather Aristotle said that courage is the mean between being bold (exaggeration in courage) and being cowardly (lack of courage). Which means that when we face the children with tasks where courage is needed and the children cannot perform well, not because they cannot do it motorically, but because they are afraid, we are obliged to find a way to make it easier for them, help them overcome that fear and successfully manage the task. Gradually, step by step and with a courageous approach the child will manage to learn how to overcome fears and become self-confident. Of course we need a bit more sensitivity and patience with children in the early stages, since the differences among the same age group might be very big.

The second value that has somehow sneaked into this text is rule adherence. How is it with rule adherence in kindergartens? Teachers need to have some order of course. So order and rule adherence are also values. But how much of order and rule adherence is just right not to destroy the creative energies of blossoming children? And how little is too little order so things might get irritating and dangerous? Since we do not always have enough time to defend our value system on the grounds of virtues as grandfather Aristotle proposed, we can call uncle I. Kant for support. Google would do the same, believe me. Uncle Kant would say that order in kindergartens is law, and such law should be practiced universally in all kindergartens, even in such circumstances as for example doing vigorous physical activities like crawling and climbing. This is the way how every teacher can make a list of values that are not questionable by anyone, even not the teacher him or herself. So what are those values that are not at stake for any price, are non-negotiable and can be regarded as eternal truths? You can even write your group’s constitutional law and pin it at your entrance so that every parent can read the law. Safety as well can be one of those Playness values on the list. But if we truly take Kant’s argument to its best, and we keep Aristotle’s ideas of virtues as means, then we can admit that also order, rule adherence and safety are always relative to the context, to circumstances. And sometimes values collide with each other and you need to find balance and take proper measure. For example, when you are working with 15 Caterpillars (2 year olds) and 20 Teddy bears (4-5 year olds), your goal is sometimes to let them creatively enjoy a kind of an ordered activity. Even safety can be questionable in such an activity. Claiming too much of safety might lead to downplaying the challenges that children urgently need for natural growth and development. Stopping rough and tumble play because of the reason of safety and not letting the children handle it themselves might be a huge mistake. But yes, it may also spare you from annoying parents complaining about bruises etc. So your task is to find values that can be put forward as a law for your group.

The third way of looking for good is proposed by philosopher J. Bentham and his student J.S. Mill. They both say that the higher good is the action that brings the most benefits. Easy, isn’t it? Well, not so fast. The benefits for whom? How can we know exactly what will be the consequences of our actions a moment later, or a week later, or in a year’s time…? You see, even philosophers have created their own games in argumentations and they love to do it. But keeping this aside, let us say that one of the more important values of Playness is 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous daily exercise delivered to children. Because this brings the most benefits to them and to society at large, and it has immediate positive impact and long term influence. Playness brings joy while moving and having fun, and it creates healthy lifestyle habits: it raises the awareness of the needs of the body and strengthens the immune system; it creates a stronger network of neurons in the brain, leading to better intellectual performance; it enhances healthy relationships among peers and builds emotional intelligence; it teaches nonviolent conflict resolution etc. So, because the Playness program brings so many benefits to all the children and the impact is not only immediate but long term as well, we may without any further ado say that Playness is that kind of good that is worth taking care of as any other value that makes our life meaningful and appreciated.

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” Mark twain

We have managed to shortly reveal some characteristics of one out of four cardinal directions of Playness Compass. As well, I hope we managed to provide you with an insight that will help you in your work so you will now be able to fight for our common ideals even better. Being a teacher is one of the most responsible and difficult professions in the world. That is why such reflections on values are needed, and we need to be clear what we stand for and what we are willing to defend on behalf of the children. And knowing how we can ground these arguments is of utmost importance. Do not hesitate to use Playness Compass to help you become a great teacher.

by Milan Hosta, PhD

Play as a tool for social interventionPlayness selected among top 50 sport start-ups in 2017

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