Advocating for Play

The Benefits of Play Most early childhood educators understand the value of play.  Because children learn best through play, we provide ample opportunities both indoors and outdoors.

Just to review, here are some of the benefits of play.

While engaging in play, children:two children in playroom with toys

  • learn about the world around them.
  • develop gross and fine motor skills.
  • practice social interactions.
  • express and control emotions.
  • develop problem solving capabilities.
  • develop language and communication skills.

The Elevator Pitch You understand play’s importance, but if a visitor came to your classroom and said, “But all they are doing is playing!”,  could you quickly articulate why play takes up so much of your school day?    Sometimes this is called an elevator pitch- a short summary that can be delivered in the time it takes to ride an elevator.  Having one can not only help when you need to explain to parents and other interested individuals why children should have time to play, it helps us stay focused on why it is so vital to a child’s development.

So right now, stop reading and practice your elevator pitch for play.

Practice it again.  I’ll wait.

Hopefully you now feel comfortable quickly summarizing the value of play. It may come in handy when you have parents visit your classroom or during parent conferences.  There may even be times when you can share the benefits of play with other educators, your friends, or people in your community.

The Teacher’s Role During Play  Now its time to take the next step-articulating the teacher’s role during play. Everyone has had opportunities to play and usually, when children are left to their own devices, they will start to play.  Because of this, most non-educators don’t understand the impact a highly qualified teacher can have on play.  Many people believe that all early childhood teachers do is supervise children to make sure their behavior meets certain standards.  To be sure, this is part of what we do, but it certainly does not paint the whole picture-or even the most important parts of it.  Let’s take a look at some of the ways teachers work to make children’s play more meaningful.

The teacher’s role in play begins before the children enter the classroom as she plans and gathers the materials needed for her students to have the most meaningful play experiences.  She considers the interests of the students and the topics that are currently being explored.  She looks at the range of activities that are available to ensure there are opportunities to play alone, with a partner, and in small groups.  The intentional teacher considers the needs of the students in all areas of development- social, emotional, physical, and cognitive- and chooses activities that will  purposefully help them to grow in each area.  She understands the value of room arrangement and sets out the activities for maximum enjoyment and use.

During play the teacher has many roles,  using this time to interact with the children individually and in small groups.  In doing so she can help a child extend their learning in many ways including:

  • providing new vocabulary words to describe and use during play.Kids playing in kindergarten.
  • inspiring imaginative play by joining the children.
  • encouraging and scaffolding problem solving during play.
  • enhancing the child’s self worth by noticing and valuing their play and spending time having meaningful conversations.
  • supporting social development by helping individuals and small groups interact appropriately.
  • helping children think in new ways by asking meaningful questions.

Teachers also use this time to assess the children’s progress in all the learning domains so that she can provide the best learning experiences in the future.

So could you give an elevator pitch about the role of the teacher in play?  If someone were to say, “It must be fun to play with the kids all day!” could you explain the many roles you take on during that play?

Be an Advocate for Play  Play is so important for the development of a child, we must be better advocates for it.  We need to be sure that all early childhood educators, the parents of our students, and early childhood policy makers all understand that the children in our care need ample time to play.  They need to know that one of the best ways to be sure that children are ready for kindergarten is to give them opportunities to engage in high-quality play. We also need to help parents and other interested individuals understand how teachers use their knowledge and skills to enhance a child’s play experiences so that maximum learning takes place.

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