When I’m at daycare, I tend to play a fair amount. I don’t mean so much play as in “play with the children”, as I mean I go off and build with blocks or legos, create something in the play kitchen, work on a new lacing pattern, or read a book. Outside I’m more likely to go off and play with loose parts, explore the yard, or color with sidewalk chalk.
There’s a couple advantages of playing this way at daycare:
- Play is just relaxing but also focusing. It gives me something mindful to do that’s not being on my phone, worrying about what’s going on, or whatever
- Children often come by to see what I’m up to, sometimes to watch, sometimes to join in. This works well because rather than me “playing with the children”, “the children are choosing to join in on play, or not.
- Children coming by gives opportunities for lots of stuff including: observing new skills that are perhaps being modeled, practicing having to “read” the situation (e.g., am I building something special they have be careful about, or is this a kind of thing they can join in on without special consideration), … and honestly I have to decide what kind of play I am doing right now (is this for me and I don’t want children to join in or destroy it, or am I feeling like it’s ok).
- Playing in the environment gives me chances to see the environment from a new perspective- physically, and interactionally, and socially. What does the space feel like sitting in this spot? Are there not enough new things to do in the house? Is it hard to find something I want? Is this space too crowded? Do I feel safe here? Does playing this way make me feel like I need something that’s not here? Can others join me here? When I play with this, do I want others to join in me? Where could I go if I wanted to be more alone?
- Practice at play extraction. What I mean by this is, a lot of times, I will go play, and children will join in on what I’m doing. A good thing to happen is if I can leave the space, and children continue to play without my presence. This is usually a good sign that what I was doing was helping to enhance their play (rather than me entertaining them). I use this technique quite a bit if I notice children are unfocused. Instead of telling them to find something to do, I’ll just go do something that I think is interesting (and will likely be interesting to them), and then engage in it in such a way that invites others to play. But then, extract myself. Noticing what kinds of things hold their attention or what ways of being allow for my extraction helps me to become more aware of their emerging interests and how my ways of being do and don’t affect their play. In Bethany’s workshop, she used a video from a day where I setup the trains and did an nice job extracting myself.
- Just getting better at play. The truth is becoming an expert player takes practice. The more I play, the better I become at play, and the better I become at recognizing what skills support play. This could be a subject of a whole other blog post.
There are also some disadvantages to focusing too much on my own play:
- Honestly, sometimes I can get so focused on my own play, that I’m not being aware enough of the children and the environment. I am more prone to miss out on some escalating situation that could have been thwarted, or whatever.
- There has to be a balance between me playing for myself and me playing to possibly spark children’s play. It can sometimes hard to find right balance. The best is not doing one or the other (and trying to equal them out), but rather when my own genuine interest in play is the kind of thing that will spark new forms of children’s play. In other words, there is overlap between those at the same time.
- Honestly, me playing can be just be too much for everyone else, depending on what I choose to do. A common example is if I decide to play piano. A lot of times that is fine, but too much sound can just be a stressor, for the children, or more likely Bethany. (Sorry, B!)
There’s a quote about teaching inquiry that I can’t seem to find, but it’s something like: “How can you support the inquiry of your students if you yourself don’t live an inquiry-ful life?” I think it’s also true with play… how can you support the play of children, if you yourself don’t have a life full of play?