Part 2: Play at the Center of the Curriculum
Moderator: Mary Jane Maguire-Fong
Panelists: Marie Jones and Elizabeth Crocker
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: Welcome. I am Mary Jane Maguire-Fong, and I am delighted to serve as the moderator for this second in our two-part webinar series focusing on play. I am professor emerita of Early Childhood Education at American River College, one of the community colleges in Sacramento, California. I thank you all for joining us today. And I hope that many of you were able to participate last week when we’d had the first in this two-part series. As we get started, I want to make sure to mention that this webinar series is provided by the California Department of Social Services, the Child Care and Development Division, in partnership with WestEd’s Program for Infant/Toddler Care.
Our goal in these webinars is to introduce you to a brand new, completely free, and very comprehensive book on play that was published last year, 2021, by the California Department of Education. This book you can download for free from the internet, from the California Department of Education. And we’ll make sure, we’re gonna tell you several times through the chat how you can access the book, the URL, and we’ll definitely have it on the very last slide.
This book is part of a series called Best Practices for Planning Curriculum for Young Children. This one, this new one is titled “The Powerful Role of Play in Early Education.” It is dedicated to our dear friend, and colleague, Bev Bos. Bev advocated tirelessly for children’s right to learn in thoughtful and engaging play environments. We will forever, forever miss Bev’s stories, her songs, her autoharp, her humor, her passionate commitment to young children, and more than anything, her deep, deep insight into how young children think, but I am certain that Bev’s spirit lives on in the pages of this book. And I know for sure that it lives on daily in the work that all of you are doing. In our first episode of this webinar series, we were pleased to welcome as our panelist, Dr. Denisha Jones, who’s also a passionate and insightful advocate for young children’s right to play. Denisha helped us reflect on why play matters in early education.
Now this week, what we want to do is to explore what teachers and those who support teachers, or work with teachers, administrators, coaches, can do to support young children’s learning within play-based environments, and to bring play back to its rightful place at the center of the early childhood curriculum. Thank you, Marie, for nodding on that. We’re gonna focus on a few key ideas from the new book, “The Powerful Role of Play in Early Education.” And our hope is that our discussion today will inspire you to get the book, to access the book, and use it as a resource in the work that you do. As I mentioned last week, I do want to acknowledge Julie Nicholson. Julie taught for many years at Mills College. She was a researcher, did a lot of research on play, was the project director and principal writer for this book. She made sure that the book built on the rich body of research that shows clearly how children’s nervous system, inclusive of the brain, is hard-wired to play in order to learn.
So, keep in mind, today, as you join in this discussion, keep in mind three things. First, these are all from the book. Children are primed by their biology to play in order to learn. Just like scientists, infants and young children literally make meaning as they watch, as they listen, as they investigate through play the people, the objects, and the events that they encounter. And, thirdly, they rely on us, those of us who provide their care, they rely on us to generously provide opportunities for them to engage playfully in researching that world that they encounter.
So with me today, as you can see on your screen, are two panelists. First, I’m going to introduce Elizabeth Crocker. Elizabeth serves as WestEd’s director of Program for Infant/Toddler Care Certification and Training. Prior to joining WestEd, Elizabeth led Children and Family Services at the Unity Council in Oakland and Concord. These programs, childcare programs, provide dual language learning, PITC principles, and a two-generational approach with the child and family at the center of the curriculum. Elizabeth and I are delighted to be in conversation today with Marie Jones.
Marie has served as professor of Early Childhood Education at American River College since 2010. Marie and I worked together for many years. She’s been an active member of the early childhood education community for 30 years. She’s served as a family childcare provider for children from birth to 12 years of age. She’s been a site supervisor and mentor teacher at the American River College Child Development Center for 13 years. And she now serves as college coordinator for the California Early Childhood Mentor Program at the college, and seminar facilitator for community mentors. Marie has also served as an advisor and contributing writer for volumes one to three, chapter one, of the “California Early Childhood Curriculum Frameworks.”
So, to organize our discussion, today, we’re using an idea that threads throughout each of the volumes of California’s early learning frameworks, and it’s explored as well in another book in this series of books called “The Integrated Nature of Learning.” The idea is essentially this, that children learn within three contexts. Play spaces, the daily routines, and the everyday conversations and interactions that we have with them. So, we’re gonna explore some ideas for how we might support play-based learning within each of these three contexts. So, we’re gonna begin by looking at play spaces. I’m gonna call into the question one of the wise sages who did some of the early writing around play, Dr. Elizabeth Jones. She described this role of the teacher as stage manager.
And so, let’s begin, Marie, talking about what teachers can do to set the stage for children’s play, and tell us a few things. What has inspired your work when it comes to creating play spaces as context for learning?
Marie Jones: I’m gonna pull up the screen in a minute and share some photos and inspirations I’ve actually received from other teachers that are educators, but I want to say before I start that the slides I’m gonna show you, the information I’m giving, is really, it comes back to when I was teaching. One of the more joyful things that I did as a teacher that I remember doing, and I was fortunate enough to work in places where play-based education was honored, and that was provisioning and creating environments that were beautiful, that invited children, that provoked curiosity in children, that provoked curiosity in me. I’m gonna move forward, and I’m gonna share the screen real quick.
Before I talk about this slide, I want you to consider the idea that play doesn’t end in childhood, and that teachers learn from playful interactions with the environment, the transitions, and the routines that we set up, and our conversations with children. And so, the idea is that this playful approach gives us an opportunity to engage your own personal curiosities while using what I call design principles. And, hopefully, that comes out through these slides that are used to set up learning spaces and activities to evoke children’s curiosity. So, I want you to look at this photo, and I want you to consider the playful approach that this teacher took while setting out these materials. Notice the use of paint cards to draw attention to shade. Notice the use of glass jars. They’re so lovely to look through, so children can see the whole pen, or the whole crayon, but also that they’re sorted by color.
Sometimes we mix all these colors, and when we do that, we’re asking children to have to sort in their heads and find the colors they need, but when you’ve presented this way, it’s easier for them to see what they need. If you look to the right, you’ll see large plastic clear containers with colorful materials. If the child might possibly want to bead, or do collaging, they can instantly see what they need and possibly begin to think about the ideas for using these materials. So, clear containers are really helpful in doing that. If you look below, you’ll see some cone-shaped, colorful yarn. Again, attractively displayed. And below it are mirrors. Not only are they attractive for this particular setup, but they’re also wonderful to use. If you haven’t used mirrors with children in art, I strongly suggest you try it out.
Of course, these are mirrors that are non-breakable, so you definitely want to make sure they’re non-breakable. And I also want to say that these smaller items in the bins are not for toddlers. In our toddler rooms, we do have markers and pens out for them. There’s a lot of trust in children. Little children can learn to use these items respectfully. And for this picture, I want you just to think about when we’re thinking about young children, and we’re thinking about art, thinking about how we can bring color to young babies, right? And I love this use of this translucent paper, which is really inexpensive. Not only did it create this social opportunity, but if you look on the ground, you can see how the light and the sun casts the shadow of the gate, and how the color fills in those shadows.
Again, another opportunity for children to playfully explore through this simple little invitation set out by this teacher. Well, this particular shelf, there’s many items in here that wouldn’t be good for children under three. I do want to point out, I do want you to instead focus on the use of materials, the types of materials. You’ll notice on this shelf, there’s not any preformed plastic food that is singular in use, right? Typically, I’m gonna use the corn for corn, the grapes for grapes. When you give children loose parts and ordinary items, it allows open-ended opportunities and ideas to come through. These items here, this beautiful use of wood, what is so aesthetically attractive, the use of metal, especially for young ones.
If they’re not using it for a house or whatever, or making food, maybe they’re exploring the way the different objects create sounds, right? There’s opportunities for science in this little space. I love the addition of these plates, right? They’re probably the only thing on this shelf that cost anything. The rest of them came from thrift stores, and they were donated. The plates were purchased, but, again, these are an item that children might find in their own homes, and, again, you can rotating out these items depending on the cultural composition of the children in your class. Again, the items on the shelf did not cost a lot of money, but they are special because they open up possibilities for play beyond what things that you might buy from the store with singular use would do.
Again, here’s a simple way to engage young children in the environment. Again, it’s a fun way for us as adults, right? I see this interesting box that it’s now a recycled box with large holes for children to go in and out of. If you find these things when you’re unpacking objects at your home, or you have friends that you can get them to save them for you. These are great things to bring into your classroom. On the floor you’ll see these soft little bags that are filled with herbs. Another great way to engage babies playfully in the sense of smell and the sense of touch. Below that you see these beautiful Asian pans that you can get at the Asian markets, or maybe different stores, Ikea, maybe, and then objects, ordinary objects that children might see in their own kitchen, these small colanders.
But what I want you to pay attention to is the arrangement. The arrangement of big to small that invites concepts of seriation in our young babies. This opportunity to nest and stack with these objects. And then I love the picture on the other side with the baby pulling this light weight, and that’s something to think about when we’re selecting materials, when we’re playfully thinking about what to put, how to provision our classrooms, but it’s light enough for the baby to move around. And it’s interesting enough because the child can peer through those little holes and look at the different shades on the other side of it, and kind of see the world from a different perspective.
And, again, when you put loose parts or recycled items or ordinary items in your classroom, you open up open-ended opportunities for children to do all kinds of interesting things, including engaging with each other socially. And this is such a lovely photo of two children exercising their curiosity in this piece, this little material, and having it bring them together.
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: Marie, can I chime in something on this one?
Marie Jones: Yes, I was just going to invite you, please. I want to give credit to Vicky Leahy and Jodie Gabriel, two incredible infant/toddler teachers at the San Diego Co-Op Preschool. Vicky was actually on the webinar last week. So, when Marie and I were thinking about the images for today, I took the liberty of including this. Vicky and Jodie are mentors to me in many ways for their use of materials for infants and toddlers, but I love this one ’cause it’s so simple. It’s just a paper towel roll. I also want to give them credit for the image of the toddlers playing with the sheets of color, playing with color and light with something as simple as the sheets of colored plastic.
Marie Jones: Thank you, Janie. I know, I totally agree. So, in addition to the materials we put in the class and the way we think about displaying them, another playful role that I probably love the most, that’s probably my favorite, and that was setting up invitations and provocations. And I hope by the time I finish explaining it you’ll understand what they are if you don’t already. So, in this case, I would call this an invitation. In the block area before the children came into the class, the teachers wanted to know what was the real interest of the children in this group. So, would putting these books out, was there an interest in creating habitats? So, you can see the book about the giraffe, habitats for animals. Is there a stronger interest in creating pathways and roads for trucks, or possibly the other ones are about building, using the blocks to do what we traditionally think about happening in the block area and that’s block building.
And by doing this little playful act of adding these books, we’re also giving ourselves a chance to observe, to observe and see what they do with the books. And also, in the process of doing this, we’re promoting literacy, we’re promoting an interest in books. And this is one thing that I probably felt like I did the best, and that was to place books everywhere in the classroom, and to use them not only to promote literacy, but to help me see what children were really thinking about and what they really wanted to do. And then, also, as a way to provide them with ideas in their play. This is really simple for infants and toddlers, to put a train track together and put a book in the middle. And just to see are they gonna look at the book and leaf through it? Are they gonna look through there and find an idea? Or in the other picture, you can see how a little kitty book was placed. It’s so simple, really, honestly, in the middle a basket of little animals, mostly kittens.
And the question I would ask is, are they going to look through the book and want to have the story read to them? Or are they gonna look through the book and maybe think about ideas for their narratives as they play with these little animals? Again, invitation or provocation, depending on whether you’ve seen them, whether you’re adding it based on an observation, which I’ll show you in a couple other slides. This is an invitation; this was set out. So, these teachers would set these experiences, very simple experiences out in different areas quickly before the children entered the classroom from outside, so there wasn’t chaos in the transition. And so, I love the way they’ve used… I mean, I think about design…
When I think about design principles, I think about how things are balanced. And the book is rectangular. The mirror is rectangular. The little box holding the blocks are rectangular. And the teachers put these little items there just to kind of, and this might be a way to provoke them, to think about how they might use the mirror, and also get them looking and thinking about the way these objects are reflected through the mirror, which is very interesting. It brings a different perspective to their play, but also these blocks that were selected intentionally match the book, right? So, maybe there’s an invitation to recreate what they see in that book, maybe not. Maybe the children will do something completely different. We don’t know.
We don’t know until we observe. And this one is actually based on a provocation, meaning the teachers had already observed an interest in playing around with the wands and those magnetic marbles that were in the, I think they were housed in the science area. And so they wanted to expand on that interest and see where children might take it. So, they found this really interesting pan, I love this pan. Metallic pan, it’s an oil pan. I’ve looked them up. You can get them pretty cheap depending on where you go. And then they added these books as resources. So, children can get their questions answered or leaf through them again to promote literacy, maybe to ask a teacher to read it with them, if they find something interesting or to answer a question. And then to add complexity to their play, you can see how they added a basket of rings from canning jars, so simple. And a couple of lids so that they can explore other ways that the magnetic pieces work, or magnetism works.
Okay. If you have access to windows take advantage of them. Put a table in front of them. Put boxes or whatever you can, to create a space where children can gather. In this case, they have these translucent material up at the top that just makes it so beautiful, but the table is where I want you to think of. So, the teachers place this table, items get rotated in and out of it all the time. You have natural items, and you have magnifying glass laid out for children to take a closer look, but also some items that might be used in creating a nest. You have a book about nests for a child to pick up and look through if they’re curious. But also, you have a plant, and by the plant you have a book that talks about seeds. So, depending on what the child’s more interested in seeing is where they’re gonna end up exploring more, but I love this little nest ’cause I noticed the teachers will rotate it out with different birds depending on what interest is going on in the class.
I think the previous one, there was an interest in owls, so they put little owls in there and books about owls. This one I love. This really brings to me, it illustrates the playfulness of the opportunity for teachers to be playful. And so, these teachers set out this experience before the children arrived. I love the use of all this natural material, bringing in pinecones, branches, or parts of the tree trunk. And then the use of real pictures. There’s so many times I’ve seen where cartoonish pictures are put out. These are real picture of, or at least realistic pictures of a bear, a squirrel, and a moose, and then animals that match. I love this little bear picture, if you can see it with the mama bear, and then this matching yellow bear in front of it.
And to me, my theory would be that that might inspire that child to think about the baby bear and where that baby bear might be. Again, contributing to the narrative that they use while they play with these pieces, these small animals. And we really don’t know what they’re gonna do, and how they’re gonna transform their narratives, and how they’re gonna change this little environment to meet the narratives that they’re creating. So, before I go to this one, I just wanted to ask Elizabeth and Mary Jane, did you guys want to comment at all about any of these photos? Or are these… anything?
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: I just wanted to say that I really appreciated your description of provocation, like on the magnet one, right? About how the teachers already knew. They’d seen the children playing with the magnet ones, but then what they put out in the play space were possibilities for the children to go deeper in their research of meaning making, which was kind of the point that I was talking about at the beginning. So, that idea of provocation as a way to support children in going deeper in their narrative, or their inquiry, or their thinking. Yeah, I love that.
Marie Jones: And I also wanted to say that these are also opportunities for us to grow as teachers, ’cause as we’re observing this, we’re learning more about what interests children, about what they’re thinking about. We’re also learning how we can step in and promote new learning opportunities, whether it be in the areas of math, whether it be in literacy, whether it be in writing. It’s through this context of playful interests that these children are displaying that we’re able to build meaningful, rich curriculum where these things are happening in places where children are emotionally activated and invested in the experience. So much more learning happens when they’re invested in the experience.
So, beyond, if we’re to move forward a little bit, I want to talk a little bit about organization, ’cause organization plays a role in how children will use the materials, will use the environment. One of the playful roles teachers can have is figuring out systems in ways to keep that organization intact. And so, in this particular photo you can see how all the blocks are separated by size and shape. Again, visually attractive. Again, offering children an opportunity to clearly see what they need and get what they need when they need it, and get what they need to fulfill whatever ideas they have, or ever emerging ideas they have. But it also invites children into the work of maintaining the space. So, you can see these cut out cardboard shapes that are placed on the shelf that direct children to know where to go, to put whatever particular block on the shelf, or whatever shape block according to where they need to go, anyways.
So anyway, this is just an example of organization, and here’s an example of what happens when environment is well-provisioned and organized, and children can find what they need. I think the only thing missing from this photo, which was in different other photos, was the incorporation of loose parts. But no matter what, these young kids were so actively involved. I think this took place over a morning, and then it was saved, and it was finished in the afternoon because the teachers honored this play that was going on. I wanted to point out here and I haven’t. These are loose parts for an infant/toddler classroom. They’re placed outside the classroom. There’s many more than this. I didn’t want to overwhelm you with too many objects, but it’s a great way to have loose parts if you’re using them in your work, which I really hope you do, they’re just wonderful.
I’m always amazed by what children will do with these open-ended items. But having them separate allows you to bring in things one at a time or a few at a time. So, you can continue to create novelty. You can continue to use them for new provocations or invitations depending on what you’re doing. But I wanted to point out these little wheels here. Sometimes we have old trucks and old equipment that gets thrown out. And in this case, the teacher was thinking on her feet, and she decided to remove all the wheels. And these wheels have been housed in the loose parts area ever since. And they’ve been really fun. They’re heavy, they roll, the toddlers really enjoy them. So, look for things in your environment that you’re getting ready to get rid of, and figure out, is there a way to piece it apart and create a new loose parts collection.
But I also wanted to point out, there’s loose parts in cans, there’s little tree cookies, and there’s rocks. So, a lot of our loose parts are natural. Some of them are lids that you can get from your own home, lots of stuff. Anyways, I wanted to point those out because in this next picture, this is, actually, these photos are from a six-week investigation on snails with toddlers. They had found them outdoors. They had collected them, and they had been studying them, and they learned to be gentle with them, with the guidance of their teacher. They learned a lot in the process, but one of the things the teachers learned from observing them was that these children were interested in creating pathways for these snails. And so you can see the use of popsicle sticks and driftwood.
Oh, my goodness, if you have a chance to collect driftwood, I’m always taking driftwood back to the center when I go to the beach. It’s a great way to engage young children in creating habitats. So, they used the driftwood and the popsicle sticks, ’cause they were available. And then the teachers brought in the tree cookies to see what they might do. And, of course, they did exactly what they thought. They created new pathways with the tree cookies. And then down below, I was a little surprised when I saw rocks, but they brought rocks in. And because the children had been taught to be so gentle with them, there was not a problem with the rocks and the snails, and they made little pathways, again, with the rocks for the young children.
And the final photo is old pieces of wood that were available and had been outdoors. And in this case, the children found the wood and brought it to the table and created their own pathways because they had been doing it already in their classroom. And to me, these pictures illustrate the advantage that children have in environments that are well-provisioned for them to make choices, right? And well-provisioned with open-ended materials. This story is another example of, I think this is an example of teacher interaction, playful interaction, but also an example of a well-provisioned environment.
This is Parker. Parker was very anxious the day the firefighters came, mostly because some of them had big uniforms on, and he spent most of the visit hanging onto his teacher’s leg, but because the teachers prior to the event had placed books about firefighters, costumes with firefighters, puzzles and other items related to firefighters in the classroom, he was able to stumble upon this book on his return from the little visit, which was outside the classroom. One of the teachers caught him looking through this book, but it was at the end of this book that he found this diagram that showed all the parts of this firefighter’s outfit, which was the nexus for the work that he did after that. So, after that, he went over to and found the firefighter outfit.
These pictures were taken over several days. So, this is not the next thing that happened. He found the firefighter outfit, but he realized that it didn’t have a mask, and he really wanted a mask ’cause he’d seen the mask when he saw the firefighters. So, he asked his teacher for help. And because he was so young, there were communication issues on both sides, but the teachers persisted, and they also made a commitment to following his lead because he knew what he wanted to do. He knew what he was doing. So, they followed his lead, and there was a lot of, like, thinking, brainstorming with him, and showing him the different materials. They even went to the outside loose parts area. They went to the art area. They have an art area in their classroom.
And so, he finally found what he needed to make his mask. And for the most part, with little help from them, he put the mask together. Then he decided that, of course, firefighters have gloves. And they told him the different places in the classroom where he can find gloves. And he ended up finding his gloves in the planting supply box. And then he decided he needed a… I guess you’re guessing right now. He needed an air tank. So, this is where, again, when they realized, finally, what he needed, he went to the loose parts area, found these tubes, found some plastic ribbon. He had access already in the classroom to tape. And he actually had access to some of these tubes in the classroom, but they were the wrong size. And he created his own tanks.
And I want to add that this story didn’t end right here because he brought this costume home every day, and back to school every day, and added to it every day. And at home he was frustrated by the mask ’cause it kept falling off his face. And so, his family got involved. His family ended up helping him. His uncle came in and ended up helping him find an actual, real face mask that he had. And I wanted to, I guess, one of the things that really struck me as I watched this whole story unfold was that it was this interest by his teachers in his play that empowered him and allowed him to persist in this work. It was the availability of supplies, and the belief in his teachers. And I think when we allow children to follow their ideas, when we point them in the direction of the materials they need, they’re gonna surprise us with what they end up doing. I wanted to pause here and ask Elizabeth and Mary Jane. Did you have any comments so far? Any questions?
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: I am enjoying this. Elizabeth, do you have any thoughts? I was gonna move us to the next context timewise.
Elizabeth Crocker: I was just thinking, just really briefly, that when you have things that don’t tell children how they’re supposed to use it, then magic can happen. And if the toy has a singular focus, it’s gonna be tough to be creative and move with that child. I think they’re beautiful examples.
Marie Jones: I love that, Elizabeth, that’s so, so, so true. It’s the magic of open-ended materials. Oh, I forgot, you know what, I do want to add one more slide, I forgot I really wasn’t at the end of his story. So, I wanted to talk to you about even in our toddler classrooms, children had access to writing tools. They had access to, so they can explore emergent writing. And in this case, he’s actually one of the practices in his classroom was to write thank you notes. And so, he’s using emergent writing to write a thank you note to the fire department. Another thing that this program does is documentation. And so, below you can see him visiting his documentation. It’s a one-page simple piece of documentation.
In this particular picture, he’s actually telling the story from his own memory, so, whatever the teacher wrote is not what he’s reading, he’s reading the story from his own memory, and his own experience. Okay, so daily routines.
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: Can I enter this with something that I wanted to share, just a phrase, Marie?
Marie Jones: Sure.
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: When we were putting this together, actually, I was thinking about the work of Dr. Barbara Rogoff from UC Santa Cruz. Actually, you could move ahead to the routines part. She’s a developmental psychologist, and she uses the term pitching in. I just want to share with participants what you’re gonna hear and see in the next series of images, a narrative, are great examples of what Barbara Rogoff would’ve called the delight the children have in learning about the world around them, by pitching in to the everyday tasks that we’re all involved in doing.
Marie Jones: Thank you, Janie. So, this is something that was really big in my practice from the very beginning. I was focused on emergent writing and early literacy. All the classrooms at the center have sign in sheets, and they all look different. The teachers can decide how they want them to look. In this particular one, you see a piece of paper that invites children to sign their name when they’re coming in. They see their parents signing their name. And so, you can see their name is printed at the top, in case they’re ready to copy it. There’s pencils available and an attractive basket. There’s a mirror for them to look at, which is an interesting way. Sometimes they just sit there and look at it before they start writing. And it’s also a way to provoke them sometimes.
They have an opportunity to see their writing flipped, the image of their writing from the mirror, which is a little bit of science added to this writing experience. And then there’s some books put to the side that allow them… This particular one is about what is your language, that they may decide to pick up and look at again. They’re looking at print, they’re engaging in print. Here is another picture. Again, this one has a sign in book, and then it has name cards on a ring that children can copy their name from. And there’s a couple of examples of children engaging in emergent writing. And here’s a little bit, I think she might be three and a half or a little bit older. And this child, again, you see lots of writing tools available that is so critical. It’s teaching them how to use them, and then trusting that they’re going to take care of them.
Teaching them how to take care of them and trusting that they will. And so, when you have lots of print in your environment, and meaningful print, children will use it to write. Some of you may have this in your classrooms, but here’s an example of using job charts, and job charts that are representative of the culture and the needs of the classroom. So, in this one, you can see they have a fish tank, and they have plants to be watered. They have hamsters in their class, and they have a snail habitat, and different children rotate through, and they become responsible for these. They have a table setting, and these children are responsible for setting the table in the classroom. They have leader of the day that has special responsibilities.
I’ll share one of those a little bit later. And children have opportunities to use signage. And this first one I’ll explain, and that is when they’re ready to clean up or go outside a child, maybe the leader of the day, will be able to hold that up and let children know there’s a little more time left for play. This one here, teachers spend a lot of time teaching these. We do need to spend some time teaching these rituals, right, helping them to understand what they are. But once we do, there’s an opportunity for us to sit back, and give them autonomy, and watch to see what they do. And sometimes they surprise us. Sometimes they do things that we wouldn’t expect. And maybe sometimes there are things that are more logical than the ideas that we have around routines and transitions.
I love this picture. When I first started teaching, I remember walking into a toddler classroom and just, like, in shock that babies were pouring their own milk, right? But look how wonderful it is when we invite babies in to pour their own milk, right? I want you also to notice that the containers are mostly clear, so children can see how much, and also to play around with measurement. That was a big part of when I was teaching was talking about a quarter full and a half full and helping them to understand different amounts and volume. So, again, it’s also thinking about… And then, also, look, they have real plates. Some of them might be serving themselves at this point. And this is the one I wanted to show you towards the end here. And this one is a transition one. This is a great example of teachers being playful about using their own play to solve a problem or an issue that was going on.
In this case, the transition from outside to inside was not good. There was a lot of stress, a lot of conflicts. And so, they brainstormed what to do. And if you look at the one with the emojis, that was the original chart they used. So, what they decided to do, and they used the leader of the day to be the greeter. And so, when they would go inside, the teacher would stand at the doorway with the greeter, and there would be a card and the children could pick, they could touch, they can yell it out. They can pick how they wanted to be greeted. They can ask for a hug, or a high five, or a fist bump. And the greeter would be the person that would get the high five, the fist bump, or the hug, which was really amazingly lovely to watch. It was fun for them, they had so much fun.
The greeter had so much fun receiving these hugs, and high fives, and the child that was coming in through the door had fun choosing and then engaging in those moments, engaging in that greeting, but then COVID hit. And so, this picture is just a quick example of how they changed things, and their greeting solution was to do non-contact greeting. And so, the children had more options in this one where they can greet by flying in. They can greet with a smile, I guess they’d have to move their masks down. There were other options in that picture that they used to greet. I was talking to the teacher, and she said, because I wasn’t here for the COVID, but that period, but she said that they also could pick and come up with their own non-contact ways of coming into the classroom. I think that’s the last one I have. I had something.
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: Marie, I’m curious, have they tried that idea with the two-year-olds, pick your way of having a greeter, and pick your way of being greeted?
Marie Jones: You know what, to my knowledge they haven’t.
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: Bet you could.
Marie Jones: I bet you. I can see doing it with two-year-olds easily. Some of these children were, in that picture they weren’t, but some of them were verging on three, they were still two.
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: I mean, ’cause rituals and transition. I mean, there’s such a pattern that children expect things to happen in a particular order. And so, it’s a nice little way of just creating a little ritual around something as simple as going from outside to inside.
Marie Jones: Absolutely.
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: Let’s move on to the third context for learning. Just briefly we’ll look at this one. It would be those everyday conversations and interactions that we have throughout the day with children and being thoughtful about how do we do it in a way that’s mindful of how in those moments we’re supporting children in learning about the world and learning about what it means to make and keep friends is a simple way to think about it. And so often during play conflicts arise, and the conflicts are going to risk the play just dissolving. What are some ways, and, Elizabeth, I’m gonna have you share a story from toddlers. What are some thoughts that you have with respect to what teachers can do to sustain the play when conflicts arise?
Elizabeth Crocker: So, this is a slide of two children that aren’t necessarily having a conflict, but really wondering with them and being close by. With infants and toddlers, it’s all about proximity and connection, right? So, being close by, being supportive, and really supporting them and engaging in a way that works, giving them that help. And that’s why it’s so important that we have not only small appropriate ratios, but small group sizes, so that we can really focus on the children, and they can focus on us. And when we look at these two children, and we think about what it is they’re watching, we want to wonder with them, we don’t know what it is, but adding some words and having some conversation, and figuring out about what they would want.
And in the next image, we see that the children are playing together. And what a teacher may have been concerned about might have thought that one child wanted something of another is not the case. They’re interested in each other. And so, just really paying attention to what the children’s intention is as opposed to our first response, but really wondering with respectful curiosity.
Marie Jones: So, I’m just gonna share this play space image. I just want to say that I had a student once tell me that she had a peace table. And I remember finally going into her classroom thinking I was gonna see an image of this peace table similar to this, but it wasn’t, it was very simple. It was just a table and a basket of puppets and a couple of cards. And I was just intrigued by how during a conflict, she asked the children, the two children who were in conflict, if they needed to go to the peace table, and they both looked at each other, and they walked right over, and within a few minutes their problems were solved. This was years ago, by the way. I was such a believer in this option. So, this is an example of a peace table that you could create in your classroom. This one is really equipped.
It has books about peace. It has beautiful calming images. It has problem solver cards. And, of course, some of these can be for older children. You can adapt them for infants and for toddlers, especially. You can make them simpler, or you can just create a space with things for them to manipulate like sensory kinds of toys and things for them to play with, but a place that they know they can go to when they’re feeling anxiety, or if they’re older, if they’re having conflicts with each other. So, again, it’s just a really good example of how you can create a space for children to work through internal personal conflicts or conflicts with other children.
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: Now, can you go back to that slide, Marie,
Marie Jones: Absolutely.
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong: before we get to this one, ’cause it makes me think of something. I’ve been taking care of one of my granddaughters on a regular basis, essentially from four months on. She’s now 18 months old. And when she loses it, in other words, I mean, even just when she has strong feelings that just kind of overtake her, I have found a place on the mantle, and this is at my daughter’s house where I care for her, where Mariah has little shells, little crystals, a little carved gourd that was her uncle’s, and there are all these little precious items. That has become our peace table. And ever since she was very young, we have used just a place in the room where I can take Margo to pull herself together, and it works, it works like magic.
So, I’m really glad you brought that into the conversation. I want to move on to the next slide because as we think about what can we do to return play to its rightful place in early childhood curriculum, I wanted to pull your attention back to how frequently you’ve heard both Elizabeth and Marie talk about having this sense of wonder, proposing possibilities for what children might do when we set up a play space or when we invite them to take on a job around the mealtime. We are proposing possibilities as an invitation and a provocation, but we don’t know what they will do in response. So, I like to think of this idea, the static idea of lesson plans, not as static, but as a question posing possibilities. This is an example of a planning web where teachers, actually, Marie, it was you and your crew who began the early inquiries many years ago at our children’s center around snails.
We didn’t have a script we were working from, but together we put together lots of different ideas, and not all the ideas happened, but we were proposing possibilities for what we might offer children as opportunities to get to know snails. So, this is an example that you’ll see in the book, “The Powerful Role of Play in Early Education.” So, you can find more there. Could you advance the slide, Marie, ’cause I think there’s one. Actually, can you take it back one? I just wanted to point out another of the images from, well, actually, don’t worry, just move it forward. I wanted to share a quote from, a couple of quotes. I’m just gonna paraphrase them right now. When you were showing the slide of the very organized block area, and then this incredible structure that fills up the whole block space, and it looks a little bit, not chaotic, but it was full and robust.
Made me think of something Betty Jones wrote about in her book, “The Play is the Thing” she said, “It’s our job as teachers to create an order in this space, and we know we have done our job well when children mess it up because they’re creating their own order as they pursue their wonderful ideas.” So, I think that thought is something that I wanted to end with in terms of maintaining that sense of playfulness, and that sense of wonder. I wonder what the children do. Not because we know what they’re going to do, but we want to support them in going deeper in their research. So, Elizabeth, at this point I’m gonna turn it over to you for a few comments about this image, which I absolutely love, and pull our webinar to an end.
Elizabeth Crocker: So, I’m so excited to share this image with you. It really illuminates how play is the learning. It’s not just play time, but it’s actually the learning. And when we think about this image that a child has created, we want to think about how are you gonna use it to support the home-school connection? How are you going to use it with the parents or the families? Is there a place for this kind of documentation as we help a child transition to public school and help them prepare to be able to receive these children, and really to advocate for the role of play and learning beginning in early childhood birth through 8, but also throughout our lives? When we play our brains are free and focused, and learning comes joyfully. The tasks are easier to master.
And when we look at this four-year-old’s writing, she heard the book, “Good Night, Gorilla” in English. She’s bilingual. She writes “león” and “elefante” in Spanish, the lion and the elephant, and she has her name across the bottom of the paper. The simple and important ability to put her ideas down and have them be valued, and really the importance of just the simple consistency of drawing paper, and beginning very early of teachers saying, wow, can you tell me about it on your paper? Can you write your name for me please? Even two-year-old people and younger, thinking about that, and really empowering that child, and letting them know we know they’re capable learners. So, that’s one image from the school in Oakland that I used to work at a long time ago. And Lee Turner Mickey is in the room, and she used to be the director of that program as well.
So, as we wrap it up, I really encourage you. People have said, well, how do we get teachers to really embrace these ideas? You’re all going to get an invitation to watch the recording as much as you want for both sessions on PITC.org. I would invite you to watch it with the people you work with and have conversations about what they might want to do to move this work forward. And then, of course, the publication on “The Powerful Role of Play in Early Education” is such an important tool to really support the movement, to make sure that people understand that children are capable, they’re born capable, and they’re born desiring to connect, play. That’s how their brains work, and our job is to support that learning as opposed to interrupt it.
I really want to thank all of you for making time after the workday to be here with everyone and all of us. And I want to thank Marie, and Mary Jane, and Denisha, who’s not here today, but was with us last week, for their joyful presentations that really bring this work alive. And so, thanks to all of you.