Book review part 3: Developmentally Appropriate Play

imageExample of writing templates from Developmentally Appropriate Play

So finally, here is the third installment of my book review for Gaye Gronlund’s “Developmentally Appropriate Play”.  Now I realise that a three part book review is probably quite unusual (after all, this is a relatively brief and concise book on guiding children to higher levels of play – it’s no Game of Thrones).  But bear with me here – I am two months into starting this blog at the same time as my family day care business, I am also working two other casual jobs and have another thing on the side called ‘raising a family’.

Not that I am complaining – I am really happy with how everything has turned out – I just totally underestimated how much time everything would take.  Time to settle new children into care while they build attachment with me.  Time to reflect on the best use of my environment.  Time to plan for experiences that cater to all the age groups I have.  Time to menu plan and cook.  Just as a few examples.

However I totally love doing this blog and I have so many more ideas on articles I can write and books I can review to record my thoughts and to be a resource to others who are in this most important profession of caring for and educating the littlest members of our community.

To see where we got up to, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this book review.

Chapter 6 is about provoking children into more complex play.  The term ‘provocation’ can be seen in a negative light but here its meaning is related to stimulating play and providing opportunities for more complex thinking, and examples are provided for how to do this with different age groups.  This can be done through excursions or special visitors, using books, offering new materials (or taking some away), and considering groupings of children (although the latter is more suited to long day care centres, it can still be a useful consideration in family day care).

I have always been inspired by the idea of setting up play spaces that allow children to act out the stories they have been reading (or more likely, have had read to them).  A tip here is to allow children to re-tell the story in their own words and don’t worry too much if they get the story line a bit mixed up.  One of our favourite stories at the moment is “Peek-a-Poo – What’s in your nappy?” about an inquisitive mouse who goes around asking all of his animal friends what’s in their nappy.  This book has given me ideas for how to set this up as a play experience as a provocation for complex play.

Family day care educators may initially get discouraged by the thought of provocations for play because at first it sounds like you have to go out and buy new resources that match every single emerging interest that children develop.  However this is not the case; having a “prop box”or by teaching children to use objects as symbols for other objects allows you to create lots of different play themes.  This is also great for children’s imagination and problem solving.  Also it forces children to improvise which builds the important skills of creativity and flexibility.

Chapter 7 is about adding representation to further enrich play, that is to document on paper.  By helping children to document as part of their play, whether it’s writing, drawing or mathematical representation, educators can encourage deeper play as well as embedding literacy and numeracy skills into the program, and helping children to see that their play is valuable.  I totally agree with the author’s caution here about not turning this into an academic lesson – any drawing or writing that you do with the children needs to add to their play and not interrupt it. There are lots of great suggestions in this chapter about how to do this in a practical way, as well as stories of how other teachers have successfully extended on children’s play with documentation.  There are also suggestions for what to do if you put out the writing materials and the children don’t use them, how to show children that their attempts at writing are valued (even if they don’t look the same as ‘adult writing’), and an appendix at the end of the book with templates for writing in different play scenarios (see photo above).

The book finishes with a chapter on incorporating standards and goals into children’s play.  In my context, this means using the five outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework to assess and plan for children’s learning.  The author argues that you don’t need to memorise standards (or outcomes) but you do need to be familiar enough with them that you know what to look for when observing children.  Examples are given of how to incorporate academic learning into children’s play interests.  This is a really important point as there is still a lot of confusion in the early childhood sector about the meaning of “Intentional Teaching” which is one of the practices of the EYLF.

As I said earlier on in the review, this book is most suited to educators who have children aged from three to six years old, whereas I (and many others in family day care) have younger children and babies.  I still think that the concepts discussed in this book are important considerations for all educators and a great reminder that “play is not just play”.  The book prompts you to think about the different kinds of play that children engage in and to really tune in when you are observing children at play so that you can notice the detail of what they are saying and doing and then use this information to plan for extending on play and learning.  A strong point is the real life stories given and the practical strategies.  As this is a fairly compact book, it does leave you wanting more in terms of ideas for play and extending on particular interests.



Book Review Part 2: Developmentally Appropriate Play


In Part 1 of my review of Gaye Gronlund’s Developmentally Appropriate Play, we looked at the concepts of different levels of play, ‘no such thing as free play’, and allowing long uninterrupted periods of time for deep play to develop.

The second half of the book discusses helping children to make choices, interactions that enhance play, provoking more complex play, further enriching play, and adding ideas, finishing with templates for writing materials that can enhance dramatic play.  One of the things I loved about this book was making links to Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia.       

Let’s face it, I just love geeking out on linking anything to the EYLF.

Gronlund outlines some ways that educators can help children make choices, explaining why it is important that there is a balance of children making their own choices, and educators making some choices for children.  In the EYLF, these ideas are supported in such practices as Responsiveness to Children, Learning through Play, and Intentional Teaching.

The play based approach must be based on children’s own interests as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  This is one thing I love about running a family day care environment where the group is very small, and where my program can easily and spontaneously be tailored to each child as well as the group.  (And this is one of the reasons why you will not find ‘themed’ weeks in my program – for example “This week we are doing shapes/colours/Christmas/etc!”  There are practical suggestions for supporting children’s play through verbal interactions, with specific phrases that educators can use to encourage, acknowledge, challenge, or offer assistance for children’s play. Also explored are ways of knowing when to enter and exit play, and sustaining play.  This section resembles the EYLF principle of Secure, Respectful and Reciprocal Relationships, and the practice of Responsiveness to Children.

As always, my time has just run out, and I will have to finish off my first book review with a Part 3.  I will leave you with a great concept from Chapter 5, which is to consider whether comments you make during children’s play merely interrupt the play (“Great job!”) or whether they help to sustain the play (“Wow, you used lots of blocks to build the bridge.” Followed up with a question like, ” I wonder what else you need for the bridge?”)  It is so easy to make remarks in passing like Great Job!  Good Building!  Nice drawing!  that interrupt but do not add to play.

Book review Part 1: Developmentally Appropriate Play

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.