We must never forget the importance of play. We know that preschoolers LOVE to play—in the interest centers, in your gross motor area and outside! Let’s not forget that play is not as random or chaotic as it seems. Free choice play time is one of your BEST opportunities to teach!
When we instruct children as a group, such as at Circle Time, we are imparting information and hopefully encouraging them to participate in many conversations, but let’s face it—preschoolers can talk up a storm! Therefore there are limited opportunities for give and take conversation with a large group and an even more limited opportunity for the children to interact with each other.
Enter “Play Time”! When children choose the interest learning centers they will participate in they are completely involved in it. They have chosen an area of interest to them at that moment. They have many ideas about how they want to interact in that center.
This is one of the best times for them to practice their language skills as they make plans for what to cook in housekeeping or what they want to build in the block center or what colors of paint they want to use at the easel. It is a time for them to practice their problem solving skills as they negotiate a turn using the stroller in housekeeping or that fire truck in the block center or asking their friend to pass a color of paint at the easel.
With these choices and talking and problem solving come conflict. Remember the discussions during different themes at Circle Time where you told the children that their hands are not for hitting and that they need to share with each other and take turns? They know it, but now they need to see it in action and use the skills they have learned.
When one child takes the fire truck from another child’s hand, an argument or hurt feelings are sure to follow. We can handle this in several ways.
One way would be to take the truck, hand it back to the first child and tell the second child, “That’s not okay. So and so had it first.”
Another would be to return the truck to the first child and say, “That’s not okay. So and so is using the truck. Ask him/her if you can have a turn when they are done with it.” Now help them to do that and remember to be sure it is given to the second child when the first is done.
Let’s go to the housekeeping center. Several children are cooking and one is the obvious director of the center (yes, there is always one!). She/he is assigning roles to the other children. Here’s the conversation:
Child 1: “You be the Mommy and you be the Dad. You’re the babysitter and you be the baby.”
Child 2: “I don’t want to be the baby. I want to be the Mommy.”
Child 1: “You can’t be the Mommy. I’m the Mommy. You have to be the baby if you’re going to play with us.”
And on and on it goes!
This can also be handled in several different ways.
We can tell Child 1 that they are not the boss. Or, we can suggest that there be more than one Mommy—maybe all the Mommies are getting together to talk and cook and have fun while the babies are in the other room sleeping.
The point is that during play time, children are trying on different roles. They are trying out different materials to see how they work. It is all part of their developmental stages.
In preschool classrooms, they are developing within a larger group and therefore need to learn to share and negotiate and problem solve with others.
Up until now, they may not have had to do this with other children because they either have no siblings or there are more materials than children at home.
As Preschool teachers, we have a wonderful opportunity to utilize what appears to be “just” playing as a time to reinforce concepts such as sharing and turn-taking as well as take their language development skills and intellectual and emotional developmental to the next levels!
There is a huge importance in “play”!
Next- How to explain what children learn during play to parents! Click the link below to go to that article!