Participating in Play

One of our primary ways of working with preschool teachers and children has been to consider together the ways children learn through play. “Play” itself is not an easy concept to define – and perhaps attempts to define it limit its potential. What is considered play for one may not be considered play for another. Many who have studied play have related it to playfulness or a playful disposition.

We’re finding that conversations around play in early childhood classrooms eventually turn to the teacher’s role in children’s play. Through these conversations, several questions have emerged: does play necessarily lead to learning? Are there particular ways that teachers can engage with children to support learning through play without disrupting their play?

Researcher Brent Davis has explored play as a way of being and has suggested several important considerations for teachers:

“In the classroom…the recognition of the vitality of the connection between play and learning points to a participatory sort of teaching–a teaching in which the teacher does not stand outside to direct the play, but becomes a vital part of the action. Immersed in the play, the teacher too is a learner.”

Davis goes on to describe the teacher’s role as that of a learner alongside children and includes some key tasks:

*   presenting possibilities

*   through attending to students’ responses, opening spaces for play

During play, he advocates that teachers “allow for departure from the anticipated play, fluidity in the structured play, and uncertainty in the known play.” I find this call to be an intriguing one and invite you to consider these allowances more deeply. What might these teacher ways-of-being look like in the classroom? Allowing for departure, fluidity, and uncertainty–and knowing when to allow for each–is certainly a high call for educators. But are there ways we can open spaces for these types of playful interactions to take hold? The next few posts will be dedicated to exploring examples of interactions in our preschool work that may embody these allowances.

Quotes taken from: Davis, B. (1996). Teaching mathematics: Toward a sound alternative. New York: Garland Publishing.

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