As I've thought about my own teaching, and as I've watched the education my own Young Heroine has gotten, I've been more and more aware of the issue of playfulness. I'm not talking about "having fun", that should be a by-product of play. What I mean is that sense of exploration, of the negotiability of boundaries and definitions. When children play they try out possibilities, which is to say they're trying out possibilities of who they might be; and the more expansive and free-ranging their play, the greater the range of both freedom and control they have over their own identities.
And as an aside, this is not just for kids. This same sense of exploration, of messing with possibilities for the shear joy of seeing what you can come up with and trying it out, is one of the dominant features of a lot of rabbinic literature. And certainly liturgical prayer has an element of play - you try on someone else's words to see how they feel, and you try to imagine what it would be like if you were the one saying them.
Anyway, it made me really happy to read that there was a conference about the importance of play for children. With all the anxiety about scores and skills and schools, it's crucial that the schools remember that an important part of the work of being a kid is to play lishmah as they say, for the shear joy of it.
Which is why I didn't quite know where to turn when I read this:
"Among the speakers at last week's Wonderplay conference was Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a Temple University psychologist who contends that lack of play in early childhood education 'could be the next global warming.' Without ample opportunity for forms of play that foster innovation and creative thinking, she argues, America's children will be at a disadvantage in the global economy."(italics added)
That approach is, it seems to me, exactly and precisely wrong. And if one of the speakers at the conference doesn't get it, the kids are in Really Big Trouble.