What is True Play?

true play, Anji Play, the play revolution in China and the U.S.

As a play advocate and a protector of childhood, I was immediately drawn to learning more about the play revolution, true play, and Anji Play. I recently joined the Anji Play Revolutionary Leadership Program and attended the First International True Play Conference in Anji County, China, earlier this month.  This experience has left me in awe of the power of play and eager to help expand the play revolution. This summer, I will write a series of blogs about true play, Anji Play, the play revolution in China and the U.S., the environment for play, and play as liberation and freedom.  I hope you will join me igniting the play revolution across the world!

What is true play? We have all heard of play, but you might be wondering what true play is and how it differs from traditional play. I chose to begin with this overview of true play because I believe there are many early childhood educators, researchers, and parents who are advocates of true play in the U.S. and beyond. Although I will use definitions collected at the conference, I believe true play has universal aspects that can be found in centers and preschools globally. For many, true play is synonymous with loose parts play and free play. Although there is no one definition of true play, I will highlight some aspects that are crucial to differentiating between true play and traditional play.

 what is true play? by Denisha Jones“True Play-True play is deep and uninterrupted engagement in the activity of one’s own choice. True play is most frequently characterized by observable experiences of risk, joy, and deep engagement. This is the deepest manifestation of learning, grown, and development. True Play flourishes in places of love where the materials, environments, and decision-making attend to the needs and differences of the individual and the group. When given space to reflect, those who experience True Play and those who take part in deep and engaged observation of True Play will create ecologies that prioritize the understanding of learning and development in their respective communities. Educators and policy-makers committed to True Play protect the child’s right to experiences of True Play, and make True Play a priority in their decision making about education.” 

This definition of True Play was posted in one of the kindergartens (preschool for age 3-6) I visited in Anji County. The characteristics of true play that stand out the most are self-determined, uninterrupted deep engagement, freedom to take risks, and joy.

As I stated earlier, I believe many early childhood teachers and educators provide an opportunity for children to experience true play. In Poolesville, MD Kisha Reid is the owner and director of Discovery Early Learning Center A Place for Childhood that provides a beautiful environment for children to engage in true play. To learn more about Kisha’s play advocacy, watch this video.
Hundreds and possibly thousands, of early childhood teachers, provide time and space for young children to experience true play every day. Unfortunately, many of them face challenges from licensing requirements to the push down of developmentally inappropriate standards and curriculum. Nonetheless, these true play defenders recognize the “child’s right to experiences of True Play,” and they fight for that right every single day.

Below are more pictures of true play from Anji County. My next blog will describe the features of Anji Play, which is a type of true play. Do you provide true play experiences? If so, please share your photos and true play stories with denisha@dey.org so we can spread the True Play Revolution!!!

Calling all ECE Leaders!
Calling all Play Defenders!
Calling all Protectors of Childhood!

Are you ready to develop your advocacy skills or to take them to the next level? Do you want to make your voice heard to lawmakers and policy experts? If so, then please join Defending the Early Years at our first Early Childhood Organizing Summer Institute July 7-10 in Washington DC. More information including links to register and book your hotel room can be found here.