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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)

Taking Children’s Play Further

The frustrated teacher ends the day confused and disappointed. Without the crutch of the set curriculum, a day organized by subject classes, the teacher book (script) telling them what to say and the trusted printer sending out warm copies of worksheets to keep children busy, the teacher feels like they aren’t doing enough. This is a normal feeling for a new play based educator.

Every set curriculum gives a daily guide of what should be memorized.

Every subject class tells them they are covering each discipline equally.

The teacher book giving them the words to say and use, the safety of a script.

The worksheets show what children know or can do, something to convince parents of the validity of the program.

All these things take away something important, not just form children but also the teacher. When working in this way the adult loses their creativity, critical thinking, relationship to each student and most importantly their curiosity of childhood itself. It is sad that so many educators enter the profession and are placed into a world where they are told that direct instruction is best, earlier the better works, and play is a reward for good behavior or relief from learning rather than the basis of learning itself. Teachers who switch to a play based approach can struggle without these crutches.

How to continually take play further?

Imagine a group of children playing in the classroom. They are pretending to cook food and offering it to others who join. This isn’t the first time. They have been this many days now.

Scenario One:

The teacher sits down to join the play. The teacher asks children what they are making. The students tell the teacher and offer to cook for the teacher. The teacher eats the pretend food, says "its yummy" and thanks the children. After a while the teacher gets up to see what other groups of children are doing feeling like the children aren’t learning anything of substance.

Within the play itself the children are learning a great deal. Social interactions, collaboration, creativity are just a few but the teacher needs to support the children's play to take it further.

Scenario Two:

The teacher sits down to join the play and waits. The students ask, “what do you want to eat?”. The teacher replies “I don’t know. Do you have a menu?” One student replies no and another sets to work quickly to make, scribbling on paper. Another student pulls out a menu he made before. The teacher notices this menu is missing things such as prices. The pictures of the food are mostly scribbles so they need to be explained by the students. The teacher asks the student to tell her the items on the menu and then asks how much the different items are. The teacher selects an item from the menu and when it is delivered starts to talk about the food. “it’s too spicy”, “do you have salt and pepper?” “Can I order a drink too?”. The teacher also engages in social conversation asking the children what type of food they like, dislike etc. From these responses the teacher begins to identify what children know, misunderstand and are most interested in during their play.

The teacher has provoked their thinking through questions and generated possible routes to explore further. For example, the group of children have their first menu. Through asking questions about the items and prices the teacher can see if the children want to take this further and make a new one, menu 2.0. The teacher could take children on a field trip to local restaurants, gathering menu for further study, which in turn could lead to menu 3.0. This is just one small aspect of the play to take further. For the academically minded adult this pathway includes elements of literacy and math.

The aim is to stay with children’s play, provoke their thinking, develop their ideas, and layer it with skills that they can use. It’s also important to remember the word ‘could’. Each action and response can lead us to different directions. There is no ‘should’ or one way path. If there was a scenario three it might be the teacher telling the children to come to the table and make a menu regardless of interest because "you MUST have menu". We work in the possibilities and choices of play. Building step by step and using various skills across different learning domains to take children’s play further.

The teacher new to play based learning can often find themselves at the far left end of the above 'Kindergarten Continuum'. Scenario Ones teacher finds themself in the loosely structured classroom. They are allowing children to play but can't see the parts of play to develop, enhance, and plan towards to take learning (the play) further. Scenario Twos teacher is working towards a 'Classroom Rich in Child-Initiated Play' being an active presence during play.


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