Thursday, March 31, 2011

Types of Play

Children play in all sorts of ways and for adults, whether we be parents or educators, it is sometimes hard to decipher what if any learning is taking place. It is imperative that we recognize that children are always learning. As adults we like to think highly of ourselves and sometimes act as if not for our interference children would forever be blank slates. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do have our place and it is an important one. We can certainly facilitate learning, we can encourage and we can provide fertile opportunities for learning, but it is equally important that we take a step back and allow children to learn and to play without our input. It is helpful to identify the different types of "play" we experience throughout of lives to remind us that play is vital and not frivolous. The ages are we when can see these types of play begin. There is no end age, we should strive to play throughout our lifetime.

Types of Play

  1. Unoccupied Play ~ Birth to 3 months ~ An infant occupies himself listening to the sounds around him, become familiar with new textures and trying to control motor function. Is there anything more joyous than the sight of your own hand and being able to bring it to your mouth to suck on it?
  2. Solitary Play ~ 3 to 18 months ~ A child starts to discover the world around him. The stuffed animal in his crib moves at his touch. As he begin to crawl he find new things to be curious about and new sounds and sights to discover. This type of play continues throughout life.
  3. Onlooker Play ~ 18 months and beyond ~ Known in the adult world as a spectator, you are not actively involved in the activity but you participate by watching, cheering etc.
  4. Parallel Play ~ 18 months to 2 years ~ Playing side by side with another child but not actively engaged in what they are doing. My husband and I engage in parallel play almost every night. We sit together on the couch each with our laptops working or reading or playing games individually. It is not as much fun if we are in separate rooms or cities.
  5. Associative Play ~ 3 to 4 years ~ The beginning of true socialization. You are playing together, sharing, cooperating and even negotiating.
  6. Social Play ~ 4 years and beyond ~ We begin to see moral reasoning come into play. What is fair and not fair. We see a development of values. An other child may allow a younger child a head start etc.
  7. Motor/Physical Play ~happening all the time~ Using physical strength, motor skills etc. Games such as jumping rope, dodge ball or ring around the rosie come into the picture.
  8. Constructive Play ~ happening all the time ~ Explorations of objects and patterns. For older children this take place when building with blocks or Lego's. It's a confidence gaining task.
  9. Expressive Play ~ happening throughout life ~ Play-doh, paints, rhythms, music, anything that can help express moods or feelings.
  10. Fantasy Play ~ as early as 4 years ~ Pretend play often trying on adult roles. Children are learning to think abstractly, they are working out the adult world and making sense of things.
  11. Cooperative Play ~ as early as 4 but usually better suited for middle childhood ~ These are group games with specific rules and one leader. Little League, basketball, soccer etc.

This is where the dance between children and adults begins. We must strive to let children have time for unoccupied play, but there is also much to learn from structure play. It is our responsibility to learn when to step in and when to step back. It is completely appropriately to encourage a child to try one more time at bat, but it is inappropriate to launch a child down a slide alone if he is frightened or not physically capable of holding his head up. We must always meet the child where he is physically, emotional and cognitively and we must always remember that play should be joyful.

It is my hope that this information inspires you to include play and playfulness to not just your curriculum, but also to your own lives.

Playfully yours,


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Value of Play

An astonishing forty percent of elementary schools in the United States have now cut recess altogether. Fifty percent have cut gym. The implications of such measures may lead to some dire results. Most articles that debate the issue focus on the physical implications. They point to the increase in obesity and the propensity for an increase in diabetes and other health related issues. This is extremely important but only one consequence of prohibiting non-structure play in the developing child. Some articles may branch out and point to an increase in academic scores for children who participate in recess. This too while important is a limited version of the benefits of play.

Playing as defined by Merriam-Webster is : : recreational activity; especially : the spontaneous activity of children. A web definition describes play as: engage in recreational activities rather than work; occupy oneself in a diversion.

For anyone who has worked closely with children and who as an adult enjoys playing these definitions fall a bit short from the mark. I personally like my friend Pam's definition. Pam defines play as joyful learning! Now we are getting somewhere. Play is the foundation of learning. It is not only crucial for our physical and cognitive health, it is essential for our very survival. It is also not just for children! Play is the foundation of all learning. I need to stress this again because through play we learn about ourselves, our world and others. We learn social rules and norms. We learn how things work, what doesn't. We learn about patterns, sequences, growth, nature and science. We learn about our emotions and how to appropriately deal with them.

It is unfortunate that much of what we know of play came about through a tragedy. In 1966, Charles Whitman, a seemly normal and even pleasant individual went up to a tower at Texas University and shot 17 people dead and wounded 47 others. The governor of Texas put together a team of experts to investigate what could possible lead a person to commit such a heinous crime. Among the experts was Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist at Baylor University College of Medicine. May factors were found to contribute to Mr. Whitman's actions but one of the glaring conclusions of the panel was stated as follows:

A lifelong lack of play deprived him of opportunities to view life with optimism, test alternatives, or learn the social skills that, as part of spontaneous play, prepare individuals to cope with life stress. The committee concluded that lack of play was a key factor in Whitman's homicidal actions – if he had experienced regular moments of spontaneous play during his life, they believed he would have developed the skill, flexibility, and strength to cope with the stressful situations without violence.

The key word in the statement above is "spontaneous play." Mr. Whitman was a bright child with an above average I.Q. He was an Eagle Scout, an altar boy, he played baseball in high school yet he was deprived of "spontaneous play" with dire results. Dr. Stuart Brown found these results so fascinating he went on to create The National Institute for Play. In a study using mice, the mice were divided into two groups. One group was allowed to play normally while one group was deprived of the opportunity to play. A cat scent was introduced into the cage and all the mice did as they should. They ran and hid! Eventually the mice who were allowed natural and spontaneous play time started to sniff their surrounding and came out of hiding. The play deprived group starved to death because they never came out. When autopsies were conducted, the play deprived mice were found to have much smaller brains. It seems the play is essential for survival.

"The opposite of play is not work, it's depression." ~Brian Sutton Smith~

Play and learning are naturally intertwined. A child squeezing play-doh is hard at play, but also hard at work and learning. Squeezing play doh develops the muscle between your thumb and your pointer finger which is a precursor to holding a pencil, which in turn leads to writing etc. While playing we are allowed to work out emotional issues. Has your child ever played school after coming home? You can pretty much determine by the type of play if it was a good day or a bad day. Through play children try on adult roles, work out problems. Play gives children and adults an opportunity to release the pressure of a work or school day. Through play we relax, sometimes we find inspiration or just let the time melt away. I know that come spring I can spend three or more hours in my garden and I'm always shocked because it literally feels like I've only been out there a few minutes. Although I rarely describe my gardening as play, it's truly what I'm doing. I'm playing in the garden. I have a sense of purpose when I'm gardening. Sometimes I work out problems dealing with the lack of sunlight. I usually lose track of the time. I find myself lost in sheer joy. I've learned more from being in my garden than from any gardening book. The garden provides me the opportunity to test things I've read and see if they work. All these things are part of playing which are also part of learning. Best of all, when I'm done, I'm physically tired, emotionally refreshed and all around happier.

On my next post I'll be listing the types of play and give some suggestions for providing opportunities for playing with your children.

Until then,

Go out and play!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Equinox

You would hardly know that spring has arrived except for the beauty of the daffodils. Daffodils always manage to cheer me up just in the nick of time. The bright yellow smiling faces of the Daffodils stand in for the much awaited sunshine that's not quite ready to make it appearance. Today we begin our Spring celebration. Somehow children make each season so special. As spring arrives, I realize how much the children have grown and changed. I see what special friendships they've forged and I am reminded daily how exciting learning can be.

For the next two weeks we will be learning about spring and more specifically the weather. I'm hoping for enough dry weather to go out with the kids and dig up our garden. This weekend I'll be picking up seeds for our pizza vegetable garden. I'm picking up tomato, bell pepper, zucchini, onion, and garlic seeds and bulbs. I can't wait and I can feel how excited the kids are.

Today we are working on a play. Each child has a part to play. One is the sun, one is rain, one child is the wind, one is the seeds. Each child works on the props for his or her part. I read the verse and the each child acts out his/her part.

A Seed Needs

I see you are a seed,
Tell me what do you need,
I need some soil to grow,
And then the sun to glow,
Water to make me wet,
Air for my leaves to get,
Space for my roots to spread,
Now I'm a plant.

Iram Khan

Everyone is looking forward to the play, but especially to warmer weather, sunnier days and lots of outdoor activities.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mission Mill

Last week we visited the Mission Mill Museum. The kids had so much fun. We prepared quite a bit for our trip before going. We read The Bobbin Girl and did our whole curriculum around the story. It was amazing. There were so many new vocabulary to learn. There were so many things to learn about mills and making wool. One of our students has sheep and brought in some wool and cards. We learned to card the wool. What fun! We also checked out the Library Bag that has stories, a puppet and a free pass to the Mission Mill Museum. What a wonderful couple of weeks getting ready. The Mill did not disappoint and we were even blessed with a clear day. After the field trip we came back and finished our little nut shepherds. The kids played with them all afternoon.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Prayer in School

"As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools."

I read that on a bumper sticker once and it made me chuckle. I've been thinking quite a bit lately about public schools and the situation teachers are finding themselves in. I love teachers. I don't like public schools much. I feel that no matter how much politicians tell us that education is important, their actions tell us otherwise. Long before the debates over cutting teacher's pay or firing teachers to balance budgets came to pass, I had a feeling that the public school system was crumbling. For years now I've been mulling over what factors are leading to the demise of our public education system. Some are obvious. For instance I think it's obvious that we are still teaching children for factory careers that they will have for 40 years and then retire with a decent pension and a gold watch. What someone has failed to realize is that most factories in the U.S. no longer even exist! I think it's obvious that anyone who has a child, or has taught a child knows that child love to learn, that they have an inquisitive nature from the moment they are born, yet we constantly stifle learning by hand feeding children information they then need to regurgitate on a test and rarely follow their inquiries on a path that may lead to them actually learning something.

There are some things however that are not very obvious. I think public schools have no spirituality. I do not say this lightly. I have been and still advocate for the separation of church and state. I do not want a teacher that has different religious beliefs to pass their doctrines to my child as "truths." However, as are the problems when trying to please everyone, me included, we tend to go too far in one direction and that is never good. I think that what has happened is that in an effort to be inclusive and culturally sensitive we've excluded all religious culture and sanctity from our school and this has not served our children well.

I believe all people have a spiritual side, if not a spiritual connection to a creator. I call that creator God, but I have no issues with anyone who disagrees with that. I think religion is personal and for some a private matter. Spirituality is not religion. Spirituality is the connection we have with each other, with nature, with the animal kingdom and if you are a believer, to God. Excluding this type of spiritually from a child's life is quite damaging. A child that cannot see his connection to a bigger whole cannot see he own worth. A child that cannot see how his actions affect others cannot make wise decisions. When we take spirituality out of the classroom, we take out the very essence that is the value of learning. Learning becomes dry and devoid of life itself.

All this has led me to wonder, why not have prayer in school? Not a teacher led prayer, but moments throughout the day set aside for prayer in whatever form that happens to be for each individual child, a sacred time set aside for reflection. Would the system suddenly crumble? Isn't that happening already?

Here at Ivy League-West, we value the spiritual and sacredness in all life. We say a morning prayer to greet the day. We pause before lunch to say a brief prayer of gratitude for all who worked so hard to get our food to our table. During special celebrations, the lights are turned off and we light candles (the safe battery-operated ones). We do not promote one religion over another, but we do acknowledge that we are part of a bigger picture. We acknowledge our very sacred place in that bigger picture. I like doing that and I know the kids really like it too.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Don't Pay for Them to Play!

Play to an adult may seem or feel frivolous or irresponsible. It may feel like a major waste of time. As adults we rarely play...even when we do. Many spend hundreds of dollars on gym membership, but surely this is not play, after all who really looks forward to the gym. ("Not I," said Alida) Some adults are even on teams playing baseball or softball or basketball, but surely this is not play! It's exercise, it's blowing off steam, it's staying fit but rarely do we describe it as play. Some adult even "play" video games, but they do it to relax, to disconnect after a hard day at work. This surely cannot be play. It has a purpose, a reason, we engage in these activities because they are good for us. We rarely stop to take note of ALL the benefits of play, especially for the youngest among us.

Sometimes when parents come to see the preschool they tell me about other places that they have visited. I have heard about babysitters that sit in front of the T.V. all day while the kids play all day long. My mind is simple. It thinks, T.V. all day - bad. Children playing all day - good! I've heard parents tell me they want to know what kind of academics are offered, because they are not paying to have their children play all day. My mind thinks, academics - good. Children play all day - good! I can totally understand wanting to reap some very specific benefits from any kind of learning environment, especially if you are paying top dollar. While we do offer an academic program, we do it through play. Play after all is the work of the child.

On Tuesday, March 29, 2011 I am speaking at the Salem Central Library on this very topic. Joining me is Pam Houghton from Mrs. Houghton's Gingersnaps Child Care and Playhouse. We will be discussing the value of play in child development. We will be detailing what exactly your child is learning while he plays. We will be listing what the best toys are and I guarantee you'll be surprised! We will also be leading a workshop where you will be making a toy to take home for your child.

If you are a parent looking for quality care or a child care provider wondering how to explain the importance of play to parents of children in your care, I urge you to join us. I will be revisiting the subject of play many, many times on this blog. For now, I will leave the details of our workshop and I headed off to "play" with the kids.

Ivy League-West and Mrs. Houghton’s Gingersnaps present:

The Value of Play in Children Development

Join Alida Chacon and Pam Houghton as they share their views on the value of play, which toys elicit imaginative play and what ways you can engage your child through play.

Come share your thoughts, questions and ideas. Make a toy to take home for your child to play with the next day.

Salem Central Public Library

585 Liberty St. Salem Oregon

Plaza Room

March 29, 2011

7:15 pm to 8:45 pm

Cost: $5.00 in advance $7.00 at the door

Seating is limited. Call to reserve your seat today.