A couple weeks ago, our staff team had the privilege to spend the afternoon with a Registered Play Therapist in a workshop titled, “What’s Our Relationship to Play: An Exploration for Play Educators.”
In working with children, I often find myself giving a scripted answer when describing play, that play is a child’s work and that children learn through play. In this workshop, we went deeper into the “work” that play offers.
Our first invitation to play was with the “this is how I play” tree. We were each given two sticky notes and were encouraged to share how we play in our present day lives. Going deeper into our perceptions of play, and the history of our own play, we were asked to think of a memory of play from our childhoods. From our memories, common themes surfaced: rules of play, gender roles, risk, and how others can contribute or inhibit our play.
We learned that adults can have a large influence on how children play. We can affect a child’s play by:
Permission – Whether or not we allow children to have the experience. Do we as an adult think the play is too messy? Is it too cold for the children to play outside? Is the play too dangerous? Our own thoughts and perceptions can hinder or promote a child’s play experience.
Time – We can regulate play opportunities for children. In the classroom, something like “clean-up time” can end an entire process for a child. Through play a child enters problem solving, learns skills (hand-eye coordination, turn-taking, language, etc.), and calculates risks. Are we providing children enough time for their play? Time gives value to a child’s play and the processes that we may not be able to see.
Space – Is physical and emotional space being provided for a child to play? In a classroom setting, I believe it’s easy to provide the physical space. We take pride in the way that our room is set-up, but are we providing enough emotional space? As an early childhood educator, we often look at children through a developmental lens. While we can create opportunities for developmental gains, are we spending enough time creating space for emotional play? Furthermore, are we offering ourselves enough emotionally to enter that space alongside the children? Emotional play space may involve us as the adult to be vulnerable with the children and explore our own likes, dislikes, and possibly even fears.
Materials – What we provide or don’t provide can affect the way that children play. Are we providing too much that it overwhelms the children? Are we providing too little that they are bored? Are we providing materials that interest the children?
One of the final activities for us that afternoon was to come to the table and choose one toy that gave us a positive feeling, and another that gave us a negative feeling. If toys are symbols to children, what are children trying to communicate to us through the toys that they choose, and the way they use them? We were invited to share about our items if we felt comfortable doing so. One thing we were challenged with was to look at the environment before clean-up time to see if children had any messages for us.
I am excited to create different play experiences for children within our program; large group play, small group play, and one-on-one play. It has been a highlight of mine coming to work to do one-on-one work with children. Storytelling and the types of figurines the children have chosen has allowed me to learn more about them as individuals and have created opportunities of permission, time, space, and materials that a 1:10 group ratio would not allow for.
It is an honour to be invited into play with a child and explore their emotional, creative, and cognitive processes with them. A child’s play is continually evolving and growing. It is a privilege to be on this play journey alongside each child.
In Play and Exploration,
For a look at our day-to-day play, please visit our Facebook page.