By now we should all know how essential play is to the healthy development of all children, but we may not realize that teachers can also benefit from play. I do not mean the adult types of play many of us to do unwind from life and work such as reading, shopping, hanging out with friends, or playing video games. Instead, I believe that teachers need to play with children. At a conference in Pittsburgh in October, I was with a small group of participants talking about the challenges of getting teachers to buy into different ideas about what is best for children. One woman who was a principal shared how she wanted the teachers to become more involved with the children’s play, so she modeled this by playing with the children outside during recess. Not only did the teachers learn how to play with children, but she spoke about how good it felt for her to play with children. Play may be the work of young children, but it can also be a way for teachers to develop positive relationships with their students.
A few weeks after the conference I had the opportunity to decide what I would do with the youth at my church during our Choose Your Own Adventure religious education class. I decided to go to the studio that includes manipulatives and dress up. I immediately started trying on dress-up clothes and almost forgot I was the adult in the room tasked with assisting the children. Instead I felt like a child again, trying on different outfits and engaging in a little role play. Of course, my enthusiasm for the dress-up area rubbed off on the other children and many of them began playing dress-up as well. What I remember most was how good it felt to play and interact with the young children, not as an adult facilitator, but as an adult playing with them.
When I was a preschool director back in 2009, my staff was always surprised to see how much I played with the children. When they came back from break they often found me wearing butterfly wings prancing around the room, or playing in the beauty salon. They often commented on how nice it was to see me interact with the children and how I encouraged them to do the same. I loved covering their break because it got me out of my office and gave me an opportunity to not just watch the children but to play right alongside them. Many times, I was able to scaffold their thinking and extend opportunities for rich discussion by simply talking with them as we played. These experiences reinforced my belief that time for free play should not simply be a break from an over-packed academic curriculum. Play is the curriculum for children and teachers.
I would love to hear more about your experience playing with children. Feel free to discuss the following questions in your comments! Do you play with children? If so, what are some benefits to you? If not, what holds you back from playing with children?