A few weeks ago, while surfing around websites of the amazing educators who blog, tweet, and fill the internet with humor and ideas, I stumbled upon a book called A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play by Vivian Gussin Paley. Ms. Paley worked as a kindergarten teacher for over forty years at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and received numerous awards and accolades, so I figured she knew what she was talking about.

With the emphasis on academics growing stronger than ever and many feeling like kindergarten is becoming first grade, kindergarten teachers are always feeling like we need to defend the importance of play. We all know deep down the importance of play to our little sprouts, but sometimes articulating it can be difficult. A Child’s Work does just that… and beautifully I might add.

Reading her book (it’s a slim quick read), I kept discovering deeper layers of the importance of play. Writing specifically about play in kindergarten, Ms. Pulley states, ‘Here the children have a clear view, for the firs time, of the pecking order in school society. For these insights and others, the kindergarten year can be an exceptionally productive period, the culmination of years of early social observations and fantasy play. By kindergarten, children have the added patience, experience, and vocabulary with which to carry the plot and the characters to places they have never been before…”

Ms. Pulley isn't opposed to teaching academics per se, she just feels fantasy play shouldn't fall to the wayside, 'However, since fantasy play is the glue that bind together all other pursuits, including the early teaching of reading and writing skills, I am compelled to put it on display as clearly as I can... It is in the development of their themes and characters and plots that children explain their thinking and enable us to wonder who we might become as their teachers.  If fantasy play provides the nourishing habitat for the growth of cognitive, narrative, and social connectivity in young children, then is is surely the staging area for our common enterprise: an early school experience that best represents the natural development of young children.'

Filled with anecdotes from her own classrooms as well as her observations in other rooms, she finds amazing insight in the conversations and revelations of her students.

Frederick once told me that the single word “Frederick” was his entire story. This seemed insufficient to me. “What do you do in the story?” I asked.
“You could go to school.”
“Just Frederick?” That was it, there would be no more. I asked the other children about his story. “Is anything different?”
“Because he’s Frederick,” Libby answered. She was four.
“The story has only one word, you notice,” I persisted.
“It’s not one word,” said John, “It’s one person.”
Of course. A person is a story. Everyone in the class understood that.

Ms. Pulley is concerned about the fate of fantasy play in our early childhood classrooms too. She writes, ‘But today fantasy play is at the barricades with fewer and fewer teachers willing to step up and defend the natural style and substance of early childhood, the source of all this vocabulary building and image decoding and Socratic questioning.’

A Child’s Work has led me to rethink the time and quality of play in my kindergarten classroom. I’ve already started to think of ways to increase the time allotted to play and ways to better document and interact with my sprouts during their play. If you work with young children, I can’t recommend this title enough. Oh, and Ms. Pulley has many other books I can’t wait to dive into.


Cathy said...

Thanks for the recommendation. Yesterday I took my class outside for some extra play time. The class had had an amazing week (especially considering it was the week before spring break) so we headed out to the playground. It isn't often we own the playground, but we were the only class outside. I lost track of time listening to them. I was amazed, first of all, with how inclusive my class is this year. They play (and work) so well together. During our time they saved the world from bad guys, cured rare disease to keep their friends alive, rescued people from danger, and generally made the world a better place. It gives me great comfort to know that some day THEY will be leading the world (maybe they should be leading it now!). It was a great reminder of the importance of fantasy in life learning and your book suggestion is well timed. Thanks!

Dorothy.Shapland said...

I've been playing with the same ideas this week. Thanks for the book recommendation. I wrote this note the other day to help process my thinking about play and academic learning... http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150122735801132

Scott said...

I also enjoyed reading that book. I've read one other: "Bad Guys Don't Have Birthdays" and it was really interesting, too. Often some adults dismiss fantasy play - and other kinds of play - as trivial. "That's just play." But to young kids it's the primary thing.

Anonymous said...

There are so many kids being diagnosed with behavior problems these days and I believe it is because they don't have enough play time to burn off the extra energy.My grandson is 7 and a first grader. Recess has been shortened, they get A, B grades and anything below that is a failure. I got a lecture when I picked him up yesterday because he is behind in reading and AR points yet he reads above grade level and has a 97 percent in his AR reading. I had lunch with him at school one day and the first 5 minutes was silence, no talking aloud, then the could talk but no louder than a whisper. If it became louder than a whisper, that offender was moved by himself, to a cubicle facing the wall for the remainder lunch time and the rest of the room had to be silent again. At Head Start our meals are eaten family style and the children are encouraged to talk about their day and learn to socialize with their class mates. I have an extremely smart grandson who is discouraged at school because the teacher is constantly criticizing the classroom

Duncan said...

"... the first 5 minutes was silence, no talking aloud, then the could talk but no louder than a whisper. If it became louder than a whisper, that offender was moved by himself, to a cubicle facing the wall for the remainder lunch time and the rest of the room had to be silent again"

That is just appalling. Sounds to me like a very loud alarm bell to the educators general attitude to children.
Children are supposed to make noise, along with playing it is what they do best.
I would suggest if they don't like it that much they are in the wrong job.
I am very sorry to hear that.

Ashley Kate said...

Thank you so much for sharing your insight on Fantasy Play! I can't wait to pick up that book :o) I just recently began reading education blogs and I am absolutely hooked! Thank you again :o)

Ashley Kate

frustrated parent/teacher! said...

to Duncan - I wish I could say that the comment from "anonymous" was atypical -- but more and more elementary schools are doing that. Lunchtimes are now only 15-20min, teachers/school staff have no say over that. So they, inappropriately but with good intent, enact rules like no talking to get kids to start eating before they run out of time to eat, because they know hungry kids can't learn either. It is horribly inappropriate, and ineffective, and I am morally opposed to the public humiliation! But this is a much bigger issue than just staff who need to leave the field.