If there was one thing our school-mom said that will never be forgotten, it is that as an educator and caregiver of young children and their families there is an obligation to develop the intrinsic motivation necessary to inspire a life-long love of learning (personal reference, Forbes, 2005). According to Almon (2002), a child's potential to develop and sustain this desire for knowledge is correlated with their attitude towards play. To create a healthy play scenario, caregivers must relinquish directive control (Ginsburg, 2007). Child-directed play calls for a caregiver to act as a safe keeper (Bailey, 2015). It is essential that the person in this role assists with open-ended questions, scaffolding hints (Pianta, La Paro, & Hamre, 2008) and strategically places items of discovery to peak interests (Gonzalez-Mena, & Eyer, 2015). In this role of observer/ mentor, the ultimate goal is to steer children in the direction of cooperative play (Berger, 2018; Smidt, 2013). This high-level play practice is effective for the facilitation of growth in social/emotional, cognitive and language widely held expectations (WHE) learning objectives (Ginsburg; Heroman, 2010). When engaged in coaching cycles, the child-initiated play was usually a topic of teaching team/mentor debate. In the personal quest to guide teachers away from directive-based instruction, observational assessments were most often utilized to highlight the many benefits of empowering their students.
Ginsburg (2007), relates cooperative play with the potential to develop cognitive and language skills required to join in group settings. The social engagement aspects of child-directed play lead to increased vocabulary and comprehension (Almon, 2002; Heroman, 2010). Children also develop the ability to self regulate and delay gratification through planning group activities and problem-solving (Ginsberg). This is the beginning of empathetic awareness as individuals gain the perspective of peers (Almon; Heroman). As previously stated, objectives in the language domain are also affected through this definitive form of exceptional quality play experience (Smidt, 2013). The ability to understand and verbally communicate ideas and needs is consistently strengthened through these methods (Heroman, 2010). Next, a look at some of the challenges families and caretakers face when implementing "free play and exploration" (Gonzalez-Mena, & Eyer, 2015, p. 73).
Not long ago, a school leader entered the classroom and said with some sarcasm and a bit of assertiveness, "They are good for you because you let them play" (personal reference, Avery, 2019). My response was something like "Yes, I suppose they do". Although the confidence to say this was not present, there was the thought "Not only do I let them play, I encourage it". Ginsberg (2007) refers to this experience and the attitude of a well-meaning administrator as major contributors to the omission of best practices in this regard. The demand for progress in the rote skill domain has caused a decline in the focus on learning through "ludic" or symbolic play as defined by Smidt (2013, p. 51). Alleviating imaginative play is a reoccurring issue for programs of which participants are economically challenged, such as Head Start (Berger, 2018). Although this unfortunate early childhood characteristic was evident in our program, there were educators willing to apply knowledge of best practices and implement necessary strategies to give their classroom family the play experiences they deserved.
Almon (2002), has connected a child experiencing moments of fully engaged free play with a state of being defined by Csikszentmihalyi in one word; "flow". This is the same "flow" mentioned in Kotler's (2014) The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance. After discovering this explanation of a child's mind while optimally engaged, a fresh personal standard for the definition of play has been concretely established.
It is believed that the new research obsession has been introduced. Back to Google Scholar!
Almon, K., (2002). The vital role of play in early childhood education. Gateways 43(1). Retrieved from http://www.waldorfresearchinstitute.org/pdf/BAPlayAlmon.org.
Bailey, B. A., (2015). Conscious Discipline: Building Resilient Classrooms. Oviedo, FL.: Loving Guidance Inc.
Berger, K. S., (2018). The developing person through childhood. (8th ed.). New York N. Y.: Worth Publishing.
Ginsburg, K. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics 119(1), 182-191. Retrieved from
Gonzalez-Mena, J., & Eyer, D. W., (2015). Infants, Toddlers, and Caregivers. A Curriculum of Respectful, Responsive, Relationship-Based Care and Education (10th ed.). New York, N. Y.: McGraw-Hill
Kotler, S. (2014). The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt
Heroman, C. (2010). Teaching Strategies GOLD. Objectives for Development and Learning: Birth through Kindergarten. DC: Teaching Strategies
Pianta, R. C., La Paro, K. M., & Hamre, B. K., (2008). Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), Manual Pre-K. Baltimore, Maryland: Brookes Publishing.
Smidt, S. (2013). The developing child in the 21st century. A global perspective on child development. (2nd ed.). London, New York: Routledge