Consider the notions of: play as research , play as learning, and risky play.
As an educator (or future educator), where is your comfort zone with play in an early learning setting? Within this comfort zone, what is your role? What theory or combination of theories does this approach align with? What philosophy of practice does it align with? Finally – is this where you want to be positioned or are you looking to make some shifts in your practice?
· Brooker, L. (2010). Learning to play, or playing to learn? Children’s participation in the cultures of homes and settings. In L. Brooker & S. Edwards (Eds.), Engaging play (pp. 39-53). Open University Press. (Library Course Reserves) Please find attached pdf
· Youngquist, J. & Pataray-Ching, J. (2004). Revisiting play: Analyzing and articulating acts of inquiry. Early Childhood Education Journal, 31(3), 171-178. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:ECEJ.0000012135.73710.0c Links to an external site. (Library Course Reserves)
Play has been an important component of early childhood education philosophical and practical pedagogy for almost 200 years. Play engages children as it affords exploration, imagination, construction, invention, communication, creation, experimentation and even resistance. The educator and theorist Friedrich Froebel (1782 – 1852), known as the kindergarten pioneer, wrote in the mid 1800s that, “Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.”
In the 1900s, early childhood researchers studied children’s play systematically. Some researchers developed categories to distinguish between different types of play. For example, Parten (1932) (see – http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=618 Links to an external site. ) created a continuum of social play from solitary to cooperative play. Later, Jean Piaget described various forms of play that engaged children at different cognitive and social level of complexity such as constructive play (the process through which children uses materials to make objects and/or combines known ideas or materials in new ways to solve problems), symbolic play (the child gives objects properties that suit the needs of play), and games with rules. Lev Vygotsky’s theory focused on socio-dramatic play. He argued that socio-dramatic play is a significant context for developing one’s self-regulation because it necessitates taking others’ perspectives, engaging with abstract thinking (symbolization of objects), clear communication (language development), and deliberate behavior guided by the (often self-imposed) rules of the game.
Children’s rights to play has been recognized universally in The Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959), as Article 7, paragraph 3, states: “The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavor to promote the enjoyment of this right.”
Complicating the Notion of Play
More recently, ECE scholars moved from categorizing play, or from trying to find the “nature” of play itself, to thinking about play in context and in relation to issues of power, gender, social positioning, cultural diversity, technology, consumerism, assessment, learning and thinking. In their book The Trouble with Play, the authors Susan Grieshaver and Felicity McArdele (2011), take a critical perspective on play, they argue that play is not always “innocent and fun” (p.1). They add that play should be thought of as political and that it needs to be evaluated from an ethical, not only educational perspective. Contemporary scholars challenged educators to think about play as a complex phenomenon and while play may be a universal phenomenon, it carries diverse meanings in different social, cultural and political contexts.
The Role of the Educator
How an educator relates to play determines the degree to which the educator values and develops play as a worthwhile experience for exploring, studying and even inventing the world in the classroom. What is clear is that educators who actively observe and listen to children learn to inquire into the deeper meanings in children’s experience of play. For example, when observing children’s play with dinosaurs, educatorss may realize that the children are actually pondering questions about power, control, strength, or fear. Teachers who “listen” to play can extend and complicate the processes of meaning making along side children.
Elizabeth Wood studied teachers’ perspective on children’s play in the classroom for many years. She critiques the common assumption that children simply learn through play. She says, “while playing with materials in the water tray may enable children to observe that objects behave in different ways, they will not spontaneously learn the concept of floating and sinking, volume and mass with out educative encounters with more knowledgeable others” (p. 125). Wood asks educators to think carefully about the tension between creating a responsive curriculum (often refers to as ‘following children’s play interests’) to more proactive models, where the teacher (while considering children’s interests and curiosities) offers conceptual tools, and creates an inquiry environment or problems to solve. This delicate tension between “Learning to play, or playing to learn” will be explored by Liz Brooker (2010) in one of the readings for this module.
Play as Research
In 1960, Naville Scarfe, who was the Dean of the Faculty of Education at UBC, wrote that, “Play may be described as a spontaneous, creative, desired research activity carried out for its own sake.” In the second reading for this module, Youngquist and Pataray-Ching explore the notion of play as an authentic experience of inquiry. Following this line of thought the goal for the educator becomes sustaining and deepening the possibilities for learning through children’s research. This article will highlight how teachers sustained and deepened the Marcus’s research of the concept of space.
Play and Risk-taking
Risk taking is an essential component of the learning process. Children who are encouraged to be actively engaged in learning through playful experiences find out that being “wrong” is an opportunity to learn something new. Learning environments where risk-taking is valued and accepted allow children to think creatively, solve-problems as they arise, and build confidence in their own thinking. If the focus is always on one “right” answer, the learning process is compromised as children thinking is narrowly focused on guessing what the teacher wants to hear. In addition, children may learn to play it “safe” and keep quiet because of the emotional implications of sensing the unpleasant feelings associated with “being wrong.” Educators can create and sustain learning environments where children are encouraged to try out new ideas, express their thoughts without the fear of being rejected, and understand that learning is a journey not a destination.
· Bergen, D. (2002). The role of pretend play in children’s cognitive development. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 4(1). https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED464763.pdf Links to an external site.
· Grossman, S. (1996). The worksheets dilemma: Benefits of play based curricula. Early Childhood News. net/46541876-The-worksheet-dilemma-benefits-of-play-based-curricula.html” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow noopener”>https://docplayer.net/46541876-The-worksheet-dilemma-benefits-of-play-based-curricula.html Links to an external site.
· Vivian, P. (2009). The importance of fantasy, fairness and friendship in children’s play: An interview with Vivian Gussin Paley. American Journal of Play, 2(2). https://www.journalofplay.org/sites/www.journalofplay.org/files/pdf-articles/2-2-interview-paley-fantasy-fairness-friendship.pdf Links to an external site.