As part of my own professional development I plan to review an early childhood related book each month for the blog. I hope that these reviews may also be helpful for parents and other early childhood educators who are wondering where to go for current, useful and reliable information.
“Developmentally Appropriate Play” by Gaye Gronlund is aimed more at a kindy/preschool age group, so a little bit older than my current cohort, but still the ideas and explanations are relevant and helpful for any educator trying to help children get the most out of their play. It supports those who (unfortunately) still need to defend play to others who do not value its educational potential and/or its general importance in children’s everyday lives.
The book is founded in theories including Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Jean Piaget’s notions of assimilation and accommodation, and Lev Vygotsky’s components of mature, high level play.
Gronlund explains three different levels of children’s play. They are chaotic or out-of-control play, simplistic and repetitive play, and purposeful, complex play. The purpose of the book is to guide educators in helping children to progress towards a level of productive play that is engaging for long periods of time and encourages creative use of materials, among a list of other benefits.
An interesting concept within this book is the idea that there is no such thing as “free play”. Educators plan the experiences, acquire the resources, set up the environment, develop goals for play, and guide positive behaviours and purposeful use of resources. With the dozens of decisions that are made before children even toddle excitedly through the door in the morning, the notion of “free play” undermines educators’ roles in guiding children to learn through play. (Ok so the author may not have expressed her opinion as strongly as this – that’s just my two cents.) It is very important that children have the opportunity to make many choices throughout their day, and it is just as important that educators carefully consider which choices to make available. Of course there will be times during the day when adults need to make choices for children, and this helps build their sense of safety and security when done in a balanced way.
“Time” is mentioned often in this book as an important aspect of developing deep play – with family lives often busy and rushed, we need to plan for long uninterrupted periods of play in our programs to allow children the time they need to become deeply involved in their own learning. This helps their “attention span to grow longer and for their play to grow richer and more rewarding”(p.60). With this in mind, I have developed a flexible daily routine that allows children to continue their play when they are heavily involved. For example, carefully considering nappy changes, eating times, and interruptions to play, to maximise the amount of time children have to concentrate on what they are doing.
This brings us to about the half way point. I look forward to finishing the book, completing Part 2 of my review, and getting some more insight into giving children the best play opportunities to help their learning and wellbeing.