Director's Column: Playing for Progress

Emily and I attended a workshop a few weeks ago, held by a well respected psychologist (and former Bowen mom), Deborah Hirschland. The title of the workshop was "Supporting Progress by Supporting Play". Deborah believes that not only can we identify children's vulnerabilities through watching them play, but we can also use play to teach them the skills they need to overcome these vulnerabilities. She finds the most important area of the classroom for developing social and emotional skills is dramatic play. She gave us the following "Play Checklist" to use when evaluating whether or not a child is playing successfully:

1. THEY USE THEIR IMAGINATIONS

  • They pretend with objects. They know how to use toys, blocks, and just everyday "stuff" to be part of their play.

  • They play out things they've seen and make up stories that get longer and more complicated as they get older.

  • They take roles in their play, imagining themselves as someone or something else.

  • They create stories that are meaningful to them, that help them understand their world.

2. THEY USE LANGUAGE

  • They use words as they're playing – to describe what they're using, to explain what's happening in their story, to talk about what is going to happen next.

  • They communicate with others – Kids often first start talking to themselves as they play. Then, they start to talk with adults and other kids, explaining what's about to happen, asking questions about what to do next, and thinking about possibilities.

3. THEY STICK AROUND

  • They persist in play, rather than cruising from one area and idea to another.

4. THEY BUILD ON WHAT THEY'RE DOING

  • They start with an idea, and they "extend" it – they take it somewhere, add new parts.

5. THEY INTERACT SUCCESSFULLY WITH THEIR PEERS

  • They are interested in playing with others.

  • They know how to enter a group that is already playing.

  • They know how to initiate play with others.

  • They show pleasure and interest in what their friends are doing.

6. THEY CAN BE FLEXIBLE AND SOLVE PROBLEMS

  • They can be flexible - sometimes getting their way, sometimes going with another's idea.

  • They can take turns.

  • They can figure out what to do if there's a conflict between what they want and what someone else wants.

When we see a child struggling in one of these areas, we ask ourselves what skills and emotional growth do we hope to foster, and how can we help? Sometimes we try being a play "coach," who hangs around the edges of play and helps kids extend ideas and solve problems together. Other times, we try being a "co-player" – an adult who is a "wise child" (i.e., who plays like a child with fantastic play skills, but who can also quickly switch into coach mode when some problem solving help is needed). Bouncing around the three classes, I am fortunate to see the teachers doing this work every day, and I see the progress the children make from 3-Day through to 5-Day and Pre-K. Next time you are in the classroom, step back and watch how hard they work at their play! Best, Nina


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