Constructive, exploratory, and dramatic play is at the heart of early childhood education. Play experiences are key to children forming early understandings about the natural world, mathematical and early literacy ideas, and social competence. Yet in many early care and education programs and throughout our society, play is overlooked and undervalued.
When replicated for adults, hands-on play and reflection experiences lead to insight into children’s learning and the teaching process. In the same way that children engage in the reverie of play, adults can rediscover the joy and importance of their own play and creativity.
This “how to” article is a practical guide for conducting a dynamic hands-on adult play workshop. When provided with a carefully structured setting, open-ended materials, and a sensitive play coach, teachers—and parents—can refocus and rethink the role of play. The process often alters insight and changes approaches to the education of young children. The workshops apply constructivist principles to create a learning community in which adults build their own knowledge through hands-on play, reflection on their play experiences, and collaboration with peers.
This approach to teaching and learning is built on several guiding assumptions:
- Every child and adult has a developmental need to experience creativity and self-expression. Play with concrete open-ended materials offers a powerful medium.
- Children and adults who are skilled at play with both things and ideas have more power, influence, and capacity to create meaningful lives. Play can build capacities like problem solving, persistence, and collaboration that we draw on throughout our lives.
- Play is a powerful mode of response to new experiences where the content and meaning are ambiguous and the outcome uncertain. A playful attitude enables the mind to remain open to explore
and imagine a wider range of possibilities when seeking answers to new experiences. Play can and should be taught to children, teachers, and parents alike through direct experience. Teaching play
requires setting the stage for learning by creating a safe accepting environment for hands-on activities, reflection, and dialogue—as well as for investigating theory and practice.
- Play is an integral part of the curriculum, opening the door to more engaging hands-on problem solving and inspiring projects. It is a natural organizing framework for integrating academic learning
experiences in mathematics, science, literacy, and social studies.
- As children and adults play and work together, we can discuss differences of opinion and seek civilized ways of settling them. As we share emotions and thoughts, we gain insight into perspectives other
than ours and discover that we are not so different from peers. This process helps us learn how to become positive and contributing members of the community.
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