Back in January, my colleagues and I at Two Writing Teachers each chose One Little Word for the year of 2016. This has been our little New Year’s tradition for the past few years.
My OLW for 2016 is play.
Today I was reminded that just because we’re “playing” a game doesn’t mean that it’s play. Play is most valuable when it’s open-ended and involves decisions and problem solving, not just following a grown-up’s directions. As a grown-up, when I let go of some of the control and let kids make decisions, they learn so much more.
To set the scene: Today was a beautiful sunny day at Smugglers Notch, where our family skis. My husband and I spent the day skiing with our nine year old nephew while my daughter was with her ski team, and our son was home with my mother-in-law.
On the first run, I studied my nephew’s skiing closely, trying to figure out what I could do to help him out. As a teacher, and a former ski instructor, it’s only natural that I feel the need to coach him every time we ski together. Being the wonderful kid that he is, he goes along with it with a smile. I observed him: major snow plow, leaning back on his heels, elbows tucked in and hands too far back.
I had recently spent a day with him focused on his upper body, getting his hands out in front, moving his elbows out with different games and challenges. But today he was right back where he had started at the beginning of the season.
I watched more closely, watching his skis and edges more carefully. “Ah ha!” I thought. “It’s his edges!” I felt confident that it if I could help him ski on his edges, then he wouldn’t lean back so much. I knew a zillion games to play to get kids out of a snow plow and on their edges.
On our next run down I tried everything I could think of to get my nephew to straighten out his skis and get on edge. We shuffled back and forth across the trail, we practiced “hockey stops,” we side-slipped, we played Follow the Leader, we skied on one ski. My nephew happily said yes to every game and suggestion but proceeded to ski just as he always had.
Finally, I could see that he was growing tired of all the coaching. “Do we have to do all these drills?” he asked. I’ll be honest–I felt a little defeated.
At lunch, he asked about my husband’s GoPro. An idea flashed across my husband’s face. “Hey,” he said, “Want to make a ski movie?”
Our nephew was excited about this. “But can we make it just a regular movie? Like with an evil villain and a chase scene?”
So that was how we wound up spending the rest of day filming “chase scenes” with my nephew chasing me down the mountain on skis, pretending to be an evil villain. My nephew instructed me to look directly into the camera and say, “You’ll never catch me you foul villain,” and we were off, with him playing the “evil ski child,” character in the movie and with me playing the “nice ski teacher.”
We had so much fun playing: practicing our evil laughs, sword fighting in the woods for our fight scene, and devising elaborate plot twists that I barely even noticed that at some point in the day he had stopped skiing in a snow plow and was up on his edges.