1 XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Introduction 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