Learning from their Stories: Deena Weisberg Part 2

In my last blog, I introduced an expert researcher in the field of guided play – Deena Weisberg and discussed the opportunity I had to interview her. Below are summaries of four of Dr. Weisberg’s articles that directly connect to learning at the preschool level.

Making Play Work for Education

This article sets out to define and contrast the terms free play, guided play, and direct instruction as well as review several research studies on the results of using each of these structures. We consider guided play to be the balance between free play and direct instruction. It is both adult-initiated and child-directed. While the adults may ask open-ended questions, they remain respectful of the child’s autonomy. In the research shared, guided play is the most productive method in balancing a joyful, engaging learning experience with true successful learning outcomes. When children are guided instead of told, they reveal a desire to explore and go beyond the intended learning results. More research is needed in this area to explore the use of guided play for all ages.

Guided Play: Principles and Practices.

In an effort to promote the approach of guided play, this article presents both the principles that distinguish this type of learning experience and research examples that reveal its effectiveness. Guided play combines in perfect balance the teacher’s intended instruction with the child’s need for autonomy and exploration. The two forms of this type of play take place when a teacher designs the environment towards a particular goal or when a teacher takes advantage of a situation by making comments, suggestions, or questions directed toward the child. The four key examples presented showcase the characteristics of guided play as well as the outcomes. It important however to acknowledge both the delicate challenge of guided play as well as the need for more research that addresses various content and types of learners.

Guided Play: Where Curricular Goals Meet a Playful Pedagogy.

Established research emphasizes the need for children at the early childhood stage to have access to rich cognitive stimulating opportunities. This article proposes that an approach called guided play is significantly effective in providing these types of environments. Teachers using guided play will either prepare an environment for children or enhance a child’s explorations with comments, suggestions, or questions that are focused on a learning goal. In both cases, the child retains autonomy, which is a crucial characteristic that separates guided play from direct instruction. The authors present several examples showing the effective use of guided play using past research as well as theorizing the reasons for its success.

Embracing Complexity: Rethinking the Relation Between Play and Learning.

This article addresses a concern that Lillard et al. (2013) too broadly disposed of the notion that play had any positive impacts on learning. The central issue for making this conclusion being that researcher bias had forced positive correlations of play on child development. To this end, the authors focus on proving that even though research may have flaws, observations can reveal positive conclusions. In a critical analyzation of the double-blind, random-assignment method, the argument is laid out for both continuing various studies in this area and reframing the research questions that are asked. The major reason given is that play is complex and therefore is deserving of more complex research designs.


Weisberg, Deena Skolnick, Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy, & Golinkoff, Roberta Michnick. (2013). Embracing Complexity: Rethinking the Relation between Play and Learning–Comment on Lillard et al. (2013). Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 35-39.

Weisberg, D., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R., Kittredge, A., & Klahr, D. (2016). Guided Play. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25(3), 177-182.

Weisberg, Deena Skolnick, Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy, & Golinkoff, Roberta Michnick. (2013). Guided Play: Where Curricular Goals Meet a Playful Pedagogy. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(2), 104-112.

Weisberg, Deena Skolnick, Kittredge, Audrey K., Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy, Golinkoff, Roberta Michnick, & Klahr, David. (2015). Making Play Work for Education. Phi Delta Kappan, 96(8), 8-13.


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