Rigor in Play, Part 1

If you are a teacher or follow educational trends, you are quite familiar with the term rigor. You probably have a love/hate relationship with it. Yet many teachers struggle with really defining it or explaining it to parents.

So, let’s search Google for a dictionary definition. Wait, wait, nope, that’s startling. Hell, even depressing.

Webster’s definition includes words like: harsh inflexibility, severity, unyielding or inflexible, strictness, austerity, even cruelty, extremity of cold, rigidity, stiffness, strict precision, and a definition for the medical term rigor mortis. Yikes, people! How does this word belong in education?

The best match to educational rigor in good ol’ Webster is:

a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable.

In eduspeak, rigor and rigorous education applies to learning experiences and activities that challenge students’ thinking and promote complex, deep thought. (As so often happens in education, are we simply repackaging a previous concept? Hello again, Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depths of Knowledge!)

Misunderstanding rigor to simply mean more work, more advanced work, or confusing it with any sort of rote learning, is at the heart of why folks think rigor and play in early childhood are opposing ideas. Don’t believe that lie.

There are stakeholders (educators, researchers, policy makers, parents) who hold children’s play sacred and necessary for children’s optimal learning. And there are those who desire Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms to be more academic, sometimes making a distinction between rigor and play.

Play is the way children learn, work, and communicate. The United Nations recognizes play as a fundamental right for children. Let’s not rob our little ones of their right to play and the beautiful development that occurs during play. Instead, let’s honor and enrich their play so that our children are capable of critical thinking and deeper understanding. Because we absolutely can achieve rigor through play.

But how? Well stay tuned, because that merits a post of its own.

Up next: How do we achieve rigor through play?

Further reading:

IPA Rights of the Child

UN Rights of the Child

Rigor: an educational definition

2 thoughts on “Rigor in Play, Part 1”

  1. We absolutely can and absolutely do achieve rigor through play. I love your blog! I love the way you weave discussion and theory of child development with personal stories. Keep ‘em coming!

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