Writing: A Form of Deep Play

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 3 minutes (552 words)

PRIMARY AUDIENCE: K-6 Teachers and Literacy Coaches; SECONDARY AUDIENCE: Administrators

Writing as play means fully immersing oneself in a piece that may not be significant to others but matters entirely to the writer.

Why It Matters: Students have the right to the time and space to engage in greenbelt writing or independent writing projects to imagine possibilities for writing as a form of play during the summertime and beyond.

Of Note: Ralph Fletcher proposed the concept of greenbelt writing, which is informal writing that is “raw, unmanicured, and uncurated” in Joy Write (2017, 39). This is joyful, personal, and playful. It’s low-stakes writing, which most kids are comfortable composing when no one is watching or grading them.

  • Dr. Stuart Brown has studied play and has identified eight play personalities. One of them is the Storyteller. “Storytellers may be novelists, playwrights, cartoonists, or screenwriters, or they may find their greatest joy in reading the novels and watching the movies created by others. Storytellers feel engaged in stories, and experience the thoughts and emotions of characters in the story” (Retrieved from National Institute for Play).
  • Independent writing projects are a way to engage writers in writing that matters to them at different points of the school year. These projects, popularized by M. Colleen Cruz in Independent Writing (2004), can serve as a springboard into summertime since students self-select the genre and the topic for their project.  
  • Play is for everyone, not just children. Here’s what Katherine May wrote about in the “Deep Play” chapter of her book, Enchantment:
Quote from Katherine May’s ENCHANTMENT book about deep play. Most words in white text, with the orange text that says “Play is the complete absorption in something that doesn’t matter to the external world, but which matters completely to you.”

Yes, But: Time constraints get in the way of handing over workshop time for writing play. Discuss these questions with your colleagues and administrators:

  • How do we shuffle something around or tighten some routines to find time for greenbelt writing?
  • Could we eradicate something else (e.g., part of the present curriculum) to make room for a couple of independent writing project cycles?
  • What are specific ways to give students time for writing that feels joyful? 

Examples in Action:

  • My son comes home from Kindergarten exhausted. In early May, he told me he wanted to be left alone so he could “just play.” I envisioned him making a domino run or playing with Legos. Instead, he shut his door and began a draft of a book about the dogs from Mo Mountain Mutts he adores watching.

The writing teacher in me bit my tongue about the details he provided, the invented spelling, and even the paper choice since I knew he wrote this as a way to play with words.
  • Ari and I have a shared art and writing book, Draw with Mom: The Two-Person Doodle Book. Sometimes we sit together to complete the pages, while other times, he completes the lefthand page and hands me the book so I can do the righthand page when I’m ready. Once the page spread is complete, we come together to discuss.

The Bottom Line:  Many writing workshops have become more structured, so teachers need to help students seek opportunities to rediscover the raw and unconstrained power of writing.

Go Deeper:

  • To infuse more joy (including play!) into your life, read Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee.
  • To infuse more play into your classroom, read Purposeful Play by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler.
  • Catch up on these TWTPod episodes:

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