"Oh, so they just play..."
Yesterday, my friend introduced me to one of her coworkers and we started talking about our jobs. I told her that I teach pre-kindergarten, and before I could explain anything more she proclaimed, “Oh, so you don’t really teach anything. You just let the kids play all day.”
I was, quite honestly, a bit offended. I have long been an advocate of high-quality pre-k and have explained the benefits of high-quality pre-k to countless people; I know that people have misconceptions about pre-k, but I still find them hard to address.
On the one hand, this woman was right: my students do spend a significant portion of their day working in free play centers such as dramatic play, blocks, art, and library. My students learn best in these child-directed settings – they have the opportunity to apply and make meaning of everything that they’ve been learning in school and at home, and this is truly how they acquire deeper understandings of the world.
On the other hand, what this woman failed to recognize is that there is a tremendous amount of teaching and learning that goes on while my students are playing. First, I am constantly observing my students and reflecting on how I can best meet their needs and promote their development. I plan what I want to accomplish each day with my students, and I work to teach them naturally through their own play. This can mean anything from providing new vocabulary cards for Jasmine and her magnetic letters to working with Erick and encouraging him to count as he builds a block tower. Each of my students needs something different every day, and it is my responsibility to meet my students where they are and provide opportunities for them to move to the next level of development. To say that I’m not teaching at any point in the day is just plain wrong!
Also, my students learn a great deal from one another throughout the day. Whether it is Stephen showing Anna how to read The Grouchy Ladybug from front to back or Makiera explaining the rules of her dramatic play game to Aaliyah, my students are constantly interacting and learning both academic and social skills from one another as they play.
All in all, yes, my kids play for a significant portion of every day. But contrary to this woman’s perception, there is a tremendous amount of teaching and learning that goes into every single one of those play episodes, and the significance of my students’ play should not be underestimated!