The Power of Play, Inquiry, and Reflection


When I started running, my purpose was not to commit to a running regime. I did not set out to be this determined, dedicated runner.  I have to say, I started out with wanting to do some form of exercise that I could do early in the morning when my then 1 year old and 4 year old were still sleeping and my husband hadn’t left for work. That was really it. So, I started playing with running.  I would do short hill sprints right in front of my house.  I found loops in the neighborhood that I could do in less than thirty minutes.  I used the gear that I had – old T shirts, shorts, paint stained yoga pants.  Little care was put into my attire – all I wanted to do was play with running as a form of exercise. The onset of running, for me, was an inquiry.

This year, Megan, a second grade teacher, and I embarked on an inquiry.  Looking back, I think our inquiry was much like the onset of my running – playful.  We took the quote “Ideas live all around us, in the smallest moments and objects.” (from The Writing Units of Study) and built a structure and time for us to study how second graders would use Tiny Topic Notebooks.

With one week left of school I can’t help but look back and be proud that Megan and I were able to remain dedicated to this inquiry.  This was where we started:


The first few weeks, we engaged the kids in observation and study.  We noticed engagement was high. Through the months, the children listened to music, they copied art cards, they observed sports equipment, they revised, and they wrote.  Megan and I created experiences where children were expected to pay attention to ideas.  Each Monday afternoon, the room was filled with productive calm as the children playfully captured ideas in their notebooks.

All year long, Megan and I were using observation as our primary means of data collection.  Over the weekend, as I realized our time together was coming to a close, I knew that I needed something more concrete than my observations and all the pictures I’ve taken.  I needed to somehow capture each child’s voice.  So, this week, Megan and I gave the class three writing invitations:


After explaining the invitations, we did a minute word splash.  I asked the kids to share one word that comes to mind when they think of their Notebook. (yellow post its).  One by one, they left the rug with their Notebooks and piece of paper and the writing began.

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I was, honestly, amazed. I had expected some writing, some good feedback that Megan and I would be able to use as we reflected ourselves on our year long inquiry. I didn’t expect such honesty, passion, and voice from the 2nd grade writers.

As read through each reflection, it was obvious that creativity, curiosity, and imagination in a calm environment are what the children valued each week.  In, Releasing the Imagination, Maxine Green writes, “the role of imagination is not to resolve, not to point the way, not to improve.  It is to awaken, to disclose the ordinarily unseen, unheard and unexpected.”  If teachers build in time, or carve out time, for children to explore and play in notebooks, their imaginations and ideas are valued.  We know ideas are at the heart of writing.  We need to recognize this and build structures for children to realize their ideas, harness them, and play.



“Learning to write is a matter of learning to shatter the silences, of making meaning, of learning to learn.” maxine greene

9 thoughts on “The Power of Play, Inquiry, and Reflection”

  1. Wow! Those reflections. I loved the line “you can write worlds you didn’t even say yet.” You have given those writers a gift and a new way to look at the world. I hope many of them carry it with them always. This work is so inspiring. I’d love to latch into a class to try something like this next year. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post. The ideas around your inquiry and the amazing and thoughtful responses of your students are just plain inspiring. “If teachers build in time, or carve out time, for children to explore and play in notebooks, their imaginations and ideas are valued.” Yes. Yes. Yes.


  3. What a lovely activity with surprisingly wonderful results! I loved reading the reflections from your students. They clearly found a way to connect with this and make it meaningful for themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “They are our calming tool…” I love how the word “calm” appears in so many of these writings. Looks at the gift your inquiry playground gave these children. Congratulations.


  5. I love that you did this with second graders. I do something similar with my fifth grade students. I had them write reflective letters as well, and they were amazing! It gave me piece of mind that what I did was right for all reasons.


  6. Wonderful reflections. This echoes the feedback I received from my high school students last year. Each week we (including myself) did a fifteen-minute freewrite. I was consistently amazed at the focus the students displayed during this time. In the formal feedback at the end of each semester, a number of the students said the freewritimg was the highlight of class time.


  7. I enjoyed the sneak peek into your students’ writing journals. I was wowed by the wonderful reflections. It’s wonderful that free writing is the best part of their day!


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