Phys ed grad finds meaningful work in the power of play

For Meghan Klettke, finding a life-changing experience at UAlberta was child’s play.


(Edmonton) Walking into a school for deaf children in Thailand last summer, Meghan Klettke had what she called a “destabilizing” moment.

“We didn’t know how to communicate with them. Our Thai and sign language were limited, and here these kids are, waiting to play with us. It was overwhelming.”

But the magic and the power of play soon took hold when a handful of blue streamers was brought out and tucked into little pockets and waistbands. Soon, the youngsters were rocketing around the room in a game of tail tag started by Klettke, taking part in the University of Alberta’s Play Around the World program, and her fellow workers.

For Klettke, who graduates Nov. 19 with a bachelor of physical education degree from the U of A’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, it was a moment both scary and exhilarating.

“With the Play Around the World program, if you are open to those destabilizing moments, there is an opportunity to transform. It gave me the opportunity I needed to be aware of myself and my boundaries. It made me more willing to see the world as it is, rather than how I think it ought to be.”

Klettke took Play Around the World, a service-learning course, as part of her studies in the faculty, and spent a three-month summer placement in Thailand teaching and learning about play leadership, global citizenship and a different culture.

A natural athlete who wrestled and played basketball and volleyball in school clubs as she grew up, Klettke believes in the larger value of physical education and activity. “It involves so much of what I enjoy—social interaction, learning a new skill, physically challenging myself—and it’s also a wonderful way to relieve stress.”

Now a teacher helping her students navigate the complexity of mastering English as a second language, Klettke, who plans to pursue graduate studies, is applying what she’s learned from the U of A and the Play Around the World program. “I’m more capable of putting myself into someone else’s shoes and understanding where they are coming from.”

That ability is important to effective teaching, she believes. “There must be a duty of care to students, and I feel I am able to reach them on a much deeper level and they are more willing to engage because I understand them and am open with them. I view teaching not in lecture style where I download information to others, but in a collaborative way, where I learn just as much.”

Klettke’s Play Around the World experience in Thailand also gave her a chance to reconnect with the pure joy of having fun with others, regardless of language barriers. “Play was something I realized I don’t do often enough, and we had exhilarating moments of connection with the students. There was only one world and we were all in it together.”

Klettke’s dedication to promoting the child’s right to play has been inspiring in that she is applying her experience both globally and locally, said Mary Ann Rintoul, director of Play Around the World at the U of A.

During her time in Thailand for her final class project, Klettke “brought together Thai and Canadian university students in a collaborative atmosphere of teaching and learning, and really promoted the right to play for children in a powerful way,” Rintoul said.

Inspired by the value of Play Around the World, Klettke also continues to support it here, serving on its program management committee and heading its plans for International Week. The program, she noted, aligns with the United Nations declaration of a child’s right to play and with the theme of this year’s National Child Day.

“I believe play is becoming more important on a global scale and is reaching a lot of people,” Klettke said.

Rintoul’s mentorship was also important to her U of A experience, Klettke added.

“Mary Ann brought so much energy to every lesson and was so willing to share all the research about play leadership. She made the learning fun and engaging, and I found that to be a breath of fresh air; it was much more than a lecture.

“My university career was really great. The Play Around the World program enhanced and put into practice the skills I gained through other courses, and I couldn’t have asked for something more perfect for myself.”