The children who thrive enter school with strong communication skills.
They are confident and self-assured, adept at making friends, persistent,
creative, and excited about learning. These are the qualities that children
acquire through play. (Segal 2004, 33)
As I travel around the country working with early childhood professionals, I
hear lots of questions and misunderstandings about the best ways to facilitate
play. It seems that many teachers are puzzled as they try to figure out the best
balance between teacher-directed and child-directed activities. Some assume
that learning occurs in teacher-directed activities only—that’s where academics
fit in. They see play as child-directed, free and fun, but not necessarily as a time
for learning to occur. Others think that play is an important vehicle for learning,
but are confused about how to enhance the experience for children. Instead,
they may tend to step back and see it as a totally child-directed experience and
stay uninvolved until problems arise needing their intervention. Or they may
try to inject academic skills and/or early learning standards in such a way that
the children quickly lose interest in the play scenario and become more passive
learners in the process.
As I visit preschool and kindergarten classrooms, I do not always see high-
level, mature play going on. Developmentally appropriate play is not just free
and fun. It’s also complex, long-lasting, and all-engaging for the children.
This kind of play needs teacher facilitation and guidance. It takes thoughtful