Hi there and thanks so much joining me for the kickoff of the Purposeful Play book study. You might be wondering who “me” is so let me share real quick! My name is Tara West and run this little slice of the internet called Little Minds at Work. You might know be from my shop at TpT or know me on a more personal level from my Little Minds at Work Facebook group. However, today I will be in full writer mode as I sharewith you not only my take of the Purposeful Play book…but also the take of several teachers like yourself.
Book Study Housekeeping
Just a few housekeeping tidbits before I jump in! Up first, I want to make sure you can also access all of the Purposeful Play posts so be sure to click and bookmark THIS link. That link will host all of the book study posts. You can access that link to read this post and all future Purposeful Play posts in one easy spot!
You saw me mention above that I am sharing teacher’s perspectives of the text as well! You can sign up to collaborate with me on the upcoming blog posts by submitting your email HERE.
Well, if anything would make us jump in feet first into a book study surrounding play it would be that quote. Seriously profound. When you read that quote you can’t help but say to yourself, “Say it louder for those in the back.” For something that seems so SIMPLE… why is it one of the most hushed 4 letter words teachers are able to speak of at school? Why is there this dark cloud shadowing “play” in our schools and why when some teachers open their classrooms up to “play time” they feel a sense of guilt that they should be pulling groups or leading “structured” play time instead?
In today’s post I (with the assistance of fellow teachers) will hope to help break down this idea of play and expand on ideas and ways we can get it back into the classroom with NO stigma. If you haven’t picked up the Purposeful Play text you can still follow along with us here but I strongly urge you to snag the book for yourself. It’s a page turner and as you read the author’s take on play you too will have a passion that grows (even more than you already had for play). You can view the Purposeful Play text on Amazon HERE.
Play isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.
The authors start the book off with a story about two little girls who are busy playing house. The two girls run into a problem (that gets a little heated) but their teacher stays quiet as she observes the students to see if they will come to a resolution on their own (and they do). I absolutely knew I would relate to the authors and this book seeing how the jumped right in with a COMMON occurrence in younger grade classrooms…bickering.
Who knew that a story about two little girls’ argument could ignite a book about the importance of play…. yet it DID! We see it every day in the classroom. Johnny is upset because Toby took the one magna tile he needed to finish his skyscraper. Suzy is upset because Natasha grabbed the dough roller before she was finished with it….and I could go on. As a teacher I was very QUICK to resolve my students’ issues and misunderstandings. I might say something like, “Johnny how about you combine your magna tiles with Toby’s so you can make an even bigger skyscraper.” “Natasha, be sure to hand the dough roller back over to Suzy when you’re done because you forgot to ask to use it.” Was/is it wrong to problem solve for our students? Well, I’ll answer that only about myself and after reading through the first few pages of the book I will for sure say this is something I should have approached completely different. Why? I won’t always be around or aware of their misunderstandings and if I’m not there to problem solve for them… will they be able to do it independently?
We can for sure play out my two scenarios above if I wouldn’t have been around. Johnny would have probably grabbed that coveted magna tile that Toby took… resulting in Toby’s skyscraper to crumble which would have then probably sent Toby over the edge so he’d just go ahead and knock down Johnny’s skyscraper to keep it even-Steven. Now inserts me the teacher because I will hear the wails from across the room. When I approach Johnny and Toby I will be completely unaware with what happened… what will I do? Most likely there would be some kind of redirecting and possible consequences. Moral of this long winded Johnny and Toby scenario? We must TEACH and ALLOW our students opportunities to solve problems on their own and how best to do that? Offering a time in our day for FREE PLAY. (Ahh…. she finally released the doves and I get where she’s going!)
Common Core Standard K.PLAY.10
You’ve read that standard before right? (Insert chuckle.) So, yeah… you won’t find K.PLAY.10 in the kindergarten Common Core Standards but the author’s of this book tell us to rest assure play IS part of the Common Core Standards. The authors jump right in with setting the record straight… the standards are a simple ENDPOINT and not a curriculum we most follow. What does that mean? The Common Core Standards tell us what our students should master but never do they state HOW to have it mastered. The Common Core (or any state set of standards) won’t say something like… “Have students partake in a rigorous 120 minute ELA block daily to ensure all foundational and literature standards are met.” The Common Core simply says read and identify all uppercase and lowercase letters for example. So, when Suzy uses the “old” keyboard in the office dramatic play area to type in her classmates’ names she too is working on a Common Core standard!
Rigor, Rigor, Rigor
With anything in the classroom there will be those ever so amazing questions teachers are asked, “Is that rigorous?” “Does it make kids critically think?” Well, the authors of this book say a big YAAAAAS when is comes to play and rigor! The authors break down the idea of rigor during play time and explain that play time IS rigorous because it allows students an opportunity to achieve thinking and experiences beyond their academic zone. The authors back this up with additional information from Vygotsky and a child’s proximal development.
I loved this idea sent in by Laura to always think about what is being gained during this time of play so that you can hold yourself accountable for rigor and the students as well. For example, if the theme is construction, put into the lesson plan things students might do as they play: plan the type of building, negotiate roles of the workers, designate group members’ job. Use powerful words, plan, negotiate, designate to give power to play.
The author’s also touch on those 21st century workplace skills we are building in good ol’ preschool and kindergarten. (Sorry, that sarcasm trickled out of me.) Check out the wonderful dramatic play pictures below that for sure give play a big “check mark” for building 21st century workplace skills. The authors give us the skills that correlate back to the 21st century workplace skills and play time: imagination, negotiation, collaboration, and empathy.
Isn’t play just “fun”?
This section of book really hits home what we have known about play but hearing it again from the authors really sets off those light bulbs. The authors mention to us how as teachers we are oftentimes focused on building in stamina in our students (think Daily Five, guided reading, and writing time). There of course isn’t anything wrong building stamina but we all know it is TOUGH and takes a lot of practice, redirection, and incentives to get them there. Yet, we see the kids play for extended time periods without the above needed. Why? The authors of this book state it’s because play is actually the work of children. The authors quote an excerpt from Stuart Brown in which he states that play is just as needed to a child as food, health, and sleep. Profound. The authors go on to state that oftentimes we are so worried about what kids need to “next” that we forget what they need now.
The book then moves into section 2 of part 1 which is all about balanced play. The book states that play should be balanced just as our literacy and math blocks are balanced. The authors start this chapter with recapping the value in play. In further studies of play Elkonin identified four principal ways in which play influences child development.
1. Play affects the child’s motivation.
2. Play facilitates mindfulness of others.
3. Play advances the development their imagination.
4. Play fosters the development of deliberate behaviors.
Amy shares her thoughts on play, “I believe, and have witnessed first hand, how important play is for children and their development. It makes a huge difference in their ability to share, cooperate and communicate. One of my favorite things to do during play time is to eavesdrop on my kids’ conversations. Because I have given them the opportunity to struggle through problem solving during play time, they have gotten so much more successful at it. Unstructured playtime affords them opportunities to practice their communication, sharing and cooperating skills like no other time during the day. This is one of the reasons I will continue to advocate for play time in my kindergarten class.”
Kinds of Play
The authors then move to break down this idea of “play” for us! Up first we discuss the types of play: fantasy/imaginative, Constructive, games with rules, and rough/tumble play. Below I will help to break down each of these types of play using resources from our book and the ideas sent in by fellow teachers!
When we think of free play in the classroom to me fantasy and imaginative play is the one I think of most. However, fantasy and imaginative play is what has found itself on the list of “don’ts” a lot of times in kindergarten classroom settings. A lot of kindergarten teachers no longer have their kitchens an dress up clothes because admin do not feel it’s importance. So, if that’s you then read closely, let your ideas run wild, and buckle up to present admin with some articles and insight on the importance of this type of play (even in kindergarten). If you are a preschool or kindergarten teacher that still has your kitchen and dress up clothes then I hope this section can give you some additional ideas on ways to expand your current fantasy and imaginative play areas.
A lot of times our students come into school with little background knowledge on fantasy play… and really beyond fantasy play they oftentimes lack an awareness of roles and figures beyond those close to them (mom, dad, sister, brother). As teachers, we want to expand their idea base of roles that can be played! If we set up a doctor’s office or hospital play area we want to teach them about all of those that work/interact in that profession: doctor, nurse, lab technician, pharmacist, patient, patient’s family, etc. We also can help elaborate how these individuals would interact in this setting by role playing. Role playing is like the old school iPad. It allows student to “see” and then gives them an idea and way to replicate that play. As you role play these individuals with a couple classmates you can also role play disagreements that might arise during this type of play. You can express to the students that the more roles they have, the more students that can participate and therefore fewer disagreements.
As teachers we can help to expand students’ knowledge of these types of roles with multiple resources such as: literature, videos, virtual field trips, and guest speakers. It is important that while you present these types of resources that you really focus in on the roles/people that do these types of jobs as that will be the part the students are acting out as they play. This hopefully will be something you start to do naturally and be able to offer natural learning experiences wherever they might pop up.
Literature books that can help build an understanding for types of roles the students can act out:
Virtual field trips like the one below are great for giving students a visual and understanding of how they can act out the roles. For example, in this virtual field trip of a dentist’s office they get to meet the receptionist, dental assistant, and the dentist. In the virtual field trip they also get to see how else they might act out the roles!
Below I will share some additional ideas for your dramatic play area sent in by fellow teachers!
Restaurant: menus, trays, order pads, old receipts, aprons, cash register, play money, boxes for a drive up, window, cars, timer, clock, calculators, tablets.
Bakery: various pans, baking utensils, cash register, play money, bags, boxes, paper for signs and descriptions, index cards for recipes, cookbooks, tablets, and calculators.
Grocery Store: advertisements, sale ads, bags, can goods, box food, boxes for children to make shelves, cash register, play money, coupons, Tinker Toys to build carts, paper for signs, tablets/calculators.
Rebecca shares, “This year we made a Vet’s office for my students. We included x-rays that they could read and had an “x-ray machine” that was created from our light table. There are different colored lights in the table and the students would also use it to check an animals temperature. If the light was blue the animal was too cold and if it was read the animal was too hot. In addition, my students also got creative and created casts for the animals out of toilet paper rolls. They had me cut down one side so they could just slide it on.”
Connie says, “After reading the book I have spent countless hours thinking of how I can create meaningful, easily transferable, learning centers in my small classroom. What I have come up with is a “stage” that will take up very little space but can easily be turned into imaginative centers. My stage was very simple to create—it is a pallet and I just pulled the boards off of another pallet to fill in the gaps. I then took a piece on indoor/outdoor carpet and stapled it to the top to cover the boards. There is just something about being raised 4 inches off the floor and I am pretty sure my students will sense the magic that this cheap DIY project will bring to our classroom. Since we learn about weather first the “stage” will be a TV weather station complete with a map, weather words and symbols, pointers, and a broken video camera on a tripod to tape the forecasts! After the weather I will add a desk and broken microphone and we will use it as a news desk and practice speaking in front of a group of people. When the desk is removed and a puppet theater is added then we will become performers. Of course I will add a couple of rows of chairs so we can practice being audience members too. When the puppet stage is removed and the box of dress up clothes come out I am hoping the stage will become an “America’s Got Talent” showplace and my students will hone their talents in front of peers. Add some musical instruments and it will become part of an orchestra pit! Put a cot on it and add a spotlight and it could be an operating room for a up and coming surgeon. The possibilities are endless as are students’ imaginations! My vision is that the “stage” will be a place of singing, dancing, laughing and learning!”
Camping Area: We made a tent from butcher paper and a yard stick, camping chairs, yard stick fishing poles with magnets, blue butcher paper as a pond, paper fish with paper clips, and hand sewn fire set.
Ice Skating Rink: blue tarp taped to the floor used as ice, paper plate skates the students stepped on, winter gear to dress in.
Gift Wrapping Station: During Christmas we put rolls of wrapping paper, tape, scissors and assorted boxes for the students to wrap. Also had a Christmas tree students could decorate and undecorate.
Jeanette has her dramatic play area planned out already,
September/October- fire station
October/November- pumpkin farm
December/January- gingerbread/hot chocolate stand
February- post office
March/April- restaurant/ice cream stand
May- garden center
“My goal for over the summer is to create a box for each month and fill it with a few items to support the theme. I want to give students ample opportunity to incorporate reading, writing, and math skills while they play. I want to be sure that I leave room for imagination, too, so I don’t want to go too crazy with items specifically for one theme. I think that part of the joy of playing in the dramatic play area is using items in a new or different way.”
Lisa shares how each of her dramatic play centers align to their unit!
“My dramatic play center changes based on what we are studying.
1. During a unit on animals, it transforms into a pet store or a veterinarian’s office. Students practice taking care of(stuffed) animals and making sure each one gets what they need.
2. When studying the food groups, the dramatic play area becomes a grocery store or a restaurant. Students are encouraged to make healthy food choices and also practice money skills.
3. During our transportation study, it became an airport (complete with baggage check and security check). I put out travel brochures, maps, and books about other places. We made passports and ID cards. Students took on the roles of customer service, security officer, passenger, pilot, and flight attendant. Once we turned it into a car repair shop…using large boxes that we turned into cars. Students pretended to be customers and mechanics.
4. While studying communities, students used boxes to create the types of buildings that would be in a community. I gave them laminated paper road pieces as well. They decided how to set up the buildings and roads, and then they used play people and cars to act out living in a community.”
The authors state that constructive play is an organized form of play that has an end goal in mind and is “product” orientated. For example, when a student pulls out the magna tiles they generally have an idea of what they will build and work to complete that product! Constructive play has for sure been brought back to a lot of classrooms during choice time, explore time, or now known as morning work bins. Constructive play can be with commercial types of material: cubes, blocks, magna tiles, Lincoln Logs, etc. However, students also like to construct using a variety of more open ended material: tooth picks, straws, toilet paper rolls, bottles, loose pieces, etc.
Allison shares a look at her constructive play material and ideas included loose pieces Christmas tree decorations and students using large pieces of Styrofoam as ramps in the block center.
Wendy shares a list of “weird” objects her students enjoy constructing with. “We use a multitude of ‘weird’ objects from bubble wrap, pvc pipes, toilet paper/paper towel tubes, centers of large paper rolls, old springs, marble mazes, all sorts of empty bottles brought in from home, old keychain rings, computer keyboards, boxes, sheets, wood slices, marbles, and popsicle sticks.”
Theresa shares, “For several years now, after reading the book Loose Parts by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky, I store open-ended learning materials for students to use to complete their assignments or to create with. Students need order and they need access to their learning materials to gain ownership of their learning, so I’ve started storing their supplies in natural materials like glass jars, wooden boxes, wicker baskets and metal bins. In fact, students are encouraged to choose their task but they are responsible for maintenance of the materials, clean-up and properly storing it. So painting can take place at the table, outside in the patio or on the rug! The following is a great article that further details loose parts and play: http://www.bluemangollc.com/loose-parts/
Laura shares her take on constructive play, “They say one man’s junk is another man’s treasure! How true is that when it comes to providing material for our classrooms. With a little imagination, an ordinary cardboard tube can become a tunnel, a telescope, and or a silo. Providing these materials so that the children can explore not only allows them to create but to expand on their vocabulary, communication skills, academic skills, and social skills.“
Laura shares additional constructive play ideas!
Block Ares Materials: blocks, blueprints, old boxes, tubes, toy workbench, toolbox, graph paper to design buildings, architecture & decorating magazines, cars, animal, people figures, paper for signs, labels, & roads, small easel for “Keep” sign , cling wrap for windows, tape & scissors, scraps of material, and paper to make drapes and decorations, plastic small toy furniture, plastic toy plants, for sale signs, and tablets.
Creative Station Materials: craft supplies (yarn, ribbon, buttons, plastic needles, material, pipe cleaners, craft sticks,etc.) art supplies ( scissors, glue, tape, stapler, brass fasteners, paper clips, magnets, crayons, pencils, pens, color pencils, highlighters, markers, playdough, paint, packaging materials,etc.) office supplies (stickers, envelopes, old folders, file folders, old stamps,date stamper,etc.) paper & other materials (construction paper, tissue paper, graph paper, drawing paper, writing paper, tag board, tin foil, wax paper, plastic wrap, bubble wrap, whiteboards, sentence strips, old gift bags, greeting cards, business cards, index cards, etc.) tablets
Lynette shares, “Materials are obviously a huge part of play/being creative. I have a big black garbage bag in my garage that I have started collecting materials. Anything I think is interesting or may be useful I put in this bag. Some ideas, egg cartons, bubble wrap, shredded paper from packaging, to go drink holders, pieces if ribbon, wrapping paper, to go containers, practically anything! Then I take it to school! Possibilities are endless! We have a kitchen for play and I find my kiddos like the “real” items I bring in much more than the fake stuff!”
Liz shares her ideas,
– unpainted wooden blocks that students can imagine as anything!
– cardboard boxes of various sizes
– Pom poms & pipe cleaners to manipulate
– shape blocks and/or laminated shape cut outs
– scraps of fabric, yarn, ribbons, wrapping paper
– green rug to denote “outside” and a colored rug for “inside”
– oil drip pan to use with magnets or a “wall” about $10 at Walmart! & any kind of small metal loose parts
– easel to put things on or under
There are several mentor texts so you can read to your students to get them thinking about constructing with an imagination! Here are some of my favorites!
Games with Rules
Games with rules speaks for itself. When students play games with rules they develop cooperation and healthy competition. Games with rules also give students an understanding of “winning” and “losing”. Students tend to struggle with losing the most so the more games with rules you can play will give your students an opportunity to build resilience.
Beyond game boards, card games, and team sports here are some games that can be played with rules:
Duck, Duck, Goose
Hide and seek
Red light, green light
The authors break down rough-and-tumble play as play fighting or horseplay. The authors state that this is most commonly found on the playground with students running around and playing chase-like games.
- Climbing up and jumping off
- Play fighting
The book urges this type of play to assist in physical development, social development, and cognitive development. Rough-and-tumble play is beneficial for children through solitary play or with a group of peers. Additional areas where rough-and-tumble play can be beneficial:
- Promoting positive peer relationships
- Fostering peer interactions
- Turn taking
- Problem solving
- Practice dominance relationships
- Taking on adult roles
- Learn rules to games
- Learn cooperative skills
Stages of Play
The authors then take us through the six stages of play. The text states that two students at the same age can be in a different stage according to their prior experiences in play. Fellow teachers Myra and Barbara explain their take on each of stages in play.
Unoccupied Behavior: This is the behavior most typical of toddlers, however kids in kindergarten classes can exhibit this kind of play as well. When seeing this type of play in kindergarten we would encourage them to look for items of interest to them. This will help them transition to onlooker behavior.
Onlooker Behavior: Onlooker Behavior is for a child who approaches but does NOT play. Kids who seem to be “shy” tend to exhibit this kind of behavior. When seeing this we will encourage them to ask questions and/or suggest items for them to interact with the encourage solitary play. We will also be aware that the kids may not necessarily be “shy” but are unsure of the how to engage in solitary play.
Solitary Play: Solitary Play is that self-absorbed play that in time children will segued from as they develop the communication and relationship. Children can tend to solitary play when engaging with blocks, Legos, playdoh, coloring, etc. It is common for kindergarten students to come to school at this stage of play. However, it doesn’t take long before they move to parallel play.
Parallel Play: Parallel Play occurs when students play alongside each other with the same material but do not communicate about the task. This seems to be where the majority of kindergarten students come in at. Many of the kids experience this type of play in preschool.
Associative Play: Associative Play where a child is playing together with same material or activity but there is no planning or organization of roles.
The goal is for the children to work together with a plan. Some students are ready for this type of play, while others are not quite ready yet and need to be coached or shown positive examples.
Cooperative Play: Cooperative Play is the most mature play. Children have a plan, discuss, negotiate, compromise and forget that individuality as they seek to sustain the time at play. This is the where we would like to see our kindergarten students at.
Creating Playful Environments
The header of the opening on this section in the book gives you this thought provoking quote from Lella Gandini,
“In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge.”
This section of the book is all about pulling together this thought of play into something you can truly implement in your classroom. The section starts with setting up your classroom (or not setting up your classroom) to provide a safe and fun space for learning and play. The authors start by sharing some scenarios that every teacher has for sure experienced with students taking it upon themselves to re-purpose our perfectly put together classroom into something that makes sense to them. The students might dump out the clipboards from their crate so that they can use the crate as a needed chair, toss the pillows from the lounge area, etc. The author’s share an excerpt from Stuart Lester and Wendy Russel. The two share that when we set up our classrooms we are making places for children. However, when the students re-purpose our classrooms they are making children’s places.
If you’re a type A teacher like myself you might struggle with this idea of allowing the students to create spaces that works for them. If so, rest assure because the author’s get you! The book transitions into discussing something you can take control of in your classroom and that is space. The authors encourage you to think of “less is more” when it comes to classroom furniture. The authors encourage you to leave open floor space so that your students can have room to truly play and explore.
Another excellent idea shared by the authors is choosing a space for works in progress to live. This would be those castles and towers students start but are unable to complete. I will admit that I was the type of teacher that encouraged students to clean it up each day and yes you would see that disappointment in their eyes when they had to make their masterpieces crumble. If you have a space in your classroom for your students then their hard work can hang around a few more days!
Krystle shares, “I’m thinking of incorporating technology to ‘save’ their creations. Before clean-up time, they can use tablets to take a picture of what they’ve created. I can then compile those pictures into a slide show.”
Roxane shares, “I have taken pictures of students work like block work, special marble work, and creative work. I print the pictures and hang them in the room so students can see their play work.”
Brandy shared an idea for those beloved masterpieces! “I am going to incorporate a “Create Gallery Wall” where I can take photos of larger construction creations and display them for students to reference in the future.” Imagine how delighted students would be to see their hard work on display for their classmates.
Brandy also elaborates on the idea of not setting up your classroom until you have student input. “I plan to have the first few focus lessons revolve around planning decisions for playtime. It would still give the students a sense of ownership. For example, we could brainstorm the best locations within the classroom for completing art projects (maybe area closest to the sink) or where using the extra large blocks would make the most sense.”
Cassie has a few questions she plans to ask her student about the classroom setup for play.
How will you be most comfortable, most productive?
What makes the most sense for your work/play?
What would you do to make it better?
Theresa shares her thoughts on setting up her classroom. “When setting up my classroom, I intentionally have an open space floor plan where students are encouraged to work on the floors, on carpet squares, take work boards or trays to complete assignments. It gives students the opportunity to have their ‘space’ but allows them to build, as noted on page 27, “emotional atmosphere” in the physical space they occupy.”
The authors give you an excellent list of questions to ask yourself when setting up your classroom. Here are just a few:
Can I re-purpose furniture (eg. make tables shorter or taller, replace a regular table with a sand table with a cover) to vary the work place in the room?
Do I have a space in the classroom or in the hall that allows for big movement
Do I have at least one smallish, cozy spot for children to recenter and feel safe?
Create a Culture of Caring in Play
The authors the transition into setting a stage for a caring and play-friendly environment. The authors focus in on creating a culture of caring in the classroom. The authors give a list of great suggestions but here are a couple of my favorites:
– Really get to know each other
– Make class meetings a forum to gather to reflect, share, and problem solve
The authors then speak on creating rules for play time. The book mentions making sure we create rules of “wills” and not “don’ts”.
Melissa shares her class and play rules, “Because I largely base my activities on learning through play, the classroom rules we generate together apply to play times as a result… our class rules as well as our class motto (Be kind, be curious, try your best, be you!) that is posted on the window shades in our classroom.”
Sarah shares her classroom rules for play as, “We will share and take turns. We will talk and work it out. We will ask before joining in. We will play fair.”
Michele’s classroom play rules are as follows: “We will stay in one place and play the whole time. We will be creative. We will encourage our classmates. We will try new things.”
Erika states her play rules as: “We will clean up our materials when we are done with them. We will use our “bugs and wishes” to help us solve problems. We will use the materials gently and respectfully.“
I want to thank you again for joining me for the Purposeful Play book study! Section two will be shared on my blog 6/30. The third and final section will be shared 7/14. Again, if you are interested in picking up the book and reading along with us you can do so HERE or by clicking below!
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