Author Archives: Aileen Rizo

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.


Learning from Others – Deena Weisberg

Learning through play is an idea that is gaining much popularity in the field of education. Especially for young children, the use of play can harness a power of engagement that comes naturally to children. The characteristics of play that are productive for learning can prove to be an essential element in ensuring deep and… Continue Reading

Learning from Others – Nora Newcombe (Part 2)

In my last blog I introduced an expert researcher in the field of spatial reasoning, Dr. Nora Newcombe, and discussed the opportunity I had to interview her. Below are summaries of four of Dr. Newcombe’s articles that directly connect to our work and learning at the preschool level. Building Blocks for Developing Spatial Skills This… Continue Reading

Learning from Others – Dr. Nora Newcombe

Spatial reasoning can be described as a skill that helps us move through our physical environment. While this skill seems like one that intuitively develops over time, research indicates that one can improve their spatial skills with practice. Spatial reasoning has also been linked to not only mathematical ability but to success in any of… Continue Reading

In Their Voices (Part 5)

Lisa Marquez is a morning teacher for a 3 to 4 year old class in Reedley, California. She has been a teacher for 10 years; however, this is her first year with Head Start. Lisa began working in education by being involved in a K-5 after school program. When she completed her Bachelor of Arts… Continue Reading

In Their Own Words

As the Early Math team moves forward in our work with preschool teachers, we are in the process of collecting data not only on the children’s mathematics development, but also the teacher’s growth in pedagogy and content. In an effort to document these changes we are in the process of completing midyear teacher interviews. While… Continue Reading

A Community Effort

Newly released test scores in California revealed that only 32 percent of students in Fresno County met or exceeded math standards. This is only a 2 percent increase compared to last year. While this might sound discouraging, it should prompt all of us as stakeholders in education to take notice. It’s easy to step on… Continue Reading

The Metamorphosis of Teachers

Perhaps you have heard it said that the greatest influence in a classroom is not the equipment, or the curriculum, but the teacher. My work in preschool makes me believe this even more. In a single observation session I’ve seen a teacher be the mentor, the comforter, the organizer, the encourager, the innovator, and the… Continue Reading

The Potential of Curiosity

Defined as “a strong desire to know or learn something,” curiosity seems to be an important component of constructing new knowledge and, when joined with play, can create powerful learning experiences. Among the early math team, we are finding that it is often the simplest of materials that can elicit both of these characteristics. The… Continue Reading

Listening to Their Stories

As my other colleagues have mentioned, it was a privilege to present to over 300 preschool teachers last month. Even though we each prepared our individual sessions, it was truly a collaborative effort. My specific presentation was on the topic of mathematical play, but I was also encouraged to share a portion of my own… Continue Reading