At our NAEYC presentation a couple of weeks ago in Dallas, an attendee raised her hand and asked, “What do I do when a parent worries that her child is ‘just playing’?” It didn’t quite come out of left field, as we were discussing math opportunities in the context of play, but I could tell that this was an issue that was pressing for her. She may have even come to our session to ask that question. She was concerned about the disconnect between what practitioners know to be good for children and unrealistic expectations that parents demand of programs.
I could tell that many of the other attendees were concerned about the same issue. Rather than answering in a coherent and reasonable way, I began babbling and rambling like a complete goofball. I don’t know what came over me, since I have been answering this question for 20 years, but for some reason, in the context of talking about math, I stumbled.
We come out of our teacher education programs with a clear philosophy of play as the foundation of learning for young children. We ALL know this. We go out into the work force and begin the long tug-of-war between staying true to a philosophy of play and the never-ending pressure to turn our preschool classrooms into 1st grades. Sometimes, the pressure comes from the parents, sometimes from the program director. It can also come from the folks with the money. You have to be able to combat all of this with a clearly articulated philosophy that simply says,
“Children are never “just playing.”
So, how do you handle this question at your program? How do you defend your play-based program while also articulating a clear understanding of play as the vehicle for learning?
Let us know.