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So we often hear, as we're going around talking about increasing school readiness for young children, somebody always will raise their hand in the audience and say, \"But what about play\" And we're so happy to have one of the preeminent experts around the importance of play joining us today to talk about how absolutely important it is that young children have opportunities to play not only in our preschool programs but beyond.
And so joining us to talk about the characteristics of play and how play influences development is none other than Dr. Deborah Leong, who I'm sure many of you know. And she is, just to give you a little bit of her background, she's a professor emerita of psychology at Metropolitan State University of
Denver. And she has many decades of experience in teaching in the Department of Psychology. She received her many degrees, her bachelor's and PhD from Stanford, and she has a master's from Harvard as well. And you might know her associated with the Tools of the Mind approach to early learning, which she co-developed with Dr. Elena Bodrova. They together have also written numerous books and articles and have videos out there that really focus on the Vygotskian approach to psychology and the development of play.
And so just as always, I'm going to make this introduction short, turn it over to our featured speaker, and you all have the opportunity as listeners to type in questions in the question bar part of your screen, and we'll make sure that we get to as many of those as we can after Dr. Leong has completed her presentation today. And so it is, without further ado, my pleasure to turn it over to Dr. Leong to talk about the importance of play.
DR. LEONG: Thank you very much. And welcome to everyone. So today my goal is to kind of talk about what the characteristics are of intentional, mature, make-believe play and how play influences development, and to leave you with some ideas that maybe you can implement in your classroom to improve the level of play that you have.
So not all play is created the same for Vygotskians. There's a big difference between immature play and mature play. And for Vygotskians, mature play is the kind of play that encourages the development of all those wonderful things, and immature play kind of leaves children at the same place. So we want to foster play that lifts children from immature play to mature play. So in order to understand how you do that, you have to have a definition of immature play. So in immature play, children do not have any role. They just kind of play with objects. And having a role means that you are playing being somebody. You're being the mommy, the daddy, the dog, the doctor, the veterinarian. You play being someone else. And this idea of the role is really important, because for Vygotskians, what it means when you have a role is that there are rules, and I'm going to talk about that more in a minute.
So in contrast, mature play has explicit roles and implicit rules. So what this means is that children play being a person. And this role, like this little girl in the picture who's the eye doctor, means that she does certain things. Like she wouldn't pick up a baby, because she's the doctor and she's supposed to be testing this little boy. The little boy wouldn't grab the pointer from her and start pointing to the letters, because he's the patient. So the reason Vygotsky says they're implicit is that children really don't discuss what those roles are. They don't say, \"I'm the doctor, so that means that I use the pointer and you don't.\" But what happen is the rules are hidden underneath, and when children violate the rules, that's when you see the rule come out.
So, for example, the other day I was in a Head Start classroom and they were playing going to school on a bus, and they had all these chairs lined up, and the bus driver is sitting in the front and he's pretending to take tickets. And then he sees the truck that he's been waiting for the whole morning come free, somebody let go of the truck. And so he jumps up to get off the bus, and there's like this chorus of things, of calls from the children who are the bus passengers, saying, \"You can't get off the bus. You need to sit on the bus. You're the driver. You have to take the tickets. You can't get off the bus.\" So you can see that the rules are made explicit when children violate them.
Another example is when parents are cooking at home, often they turn on the television to keep the children out of the kitchen. So before, my son, who's now 26, used to play on the floor with pots and pans, or at the counter with pots and pans just like me, and I would cook and he'd pretend to cook. But now if you turn on a video, he's not even watching. He wouldn't be able to see. So it happens in the car. You have videos in the car so they don't bother you, but in the meantime, they're not watching what happens when you drive. So it's just an example of how much harder it is to get mature play going in today's classroom because children are not in the flow of life so that they don't know a lot about what happens.
Another thing we really work on is encouraging children to think ahead. So we ask them when they choose their center not just to say, \"I'm going to the housekeeping area,\" but to say what they're going to do there. And in fact, we ask them to draw and write their plans. So I think the most important takeaway from this is that they say what they're going to do, not just who they're going to be. Because what that does is it helps children start to self-regulate because they'll remember who they're going to be when they get to the center. And they'll have in their mind a set of actions, actions and behaviors that go along with their role. And this will allow them to stay in the role a little bit longer, which is the major way that play influences self-regulation.
So, how to decide whether or not to step into the play. You observe what is going on in the play. What are they doing If there's little interaction and they aren't talking to each other or no obvious roles or if they're just manipulating things, you have to step in. And you step in by providing a scenario and getting them all into roles. If you use a planning technique, what we often do is say, \"Well, what did you plan to be at the beginning\" If children are aggressive, of course, or using toys improperly, of course you have to step in.
And last, we would take a role and describe who you are and what you're doing and we try to make it be the role that's being acted on rather than the actor. So, for example, if they were playing beauty shop, we wouldn't be the beautician, we would be the customer. So you take a subservient or an ancillary role, and then you have the children playing the main role. So, for example, in the doctor's office, we would be the patient, we wouldn't become the doctor. Unless children didn't know what to do, and in that case we would be the doctor so that we're sure that they have a scenario to act out and understand what the roles are.
When children engage in mature play, they develop greater self-regulation skills. In this webinar, learn the difference between immature and mature play and how they influence child development. See examples of mature play and explore ways teachers can engage children in the dramatic play area to foster the development of self-regulation.
Before it's time to play, all the kids develop a \"play plan.\" Choosing which character he will be, each child draws a picture of himself as that character, doing the planned activity. At the bottom of the picture, he writes: \"I am going to (action).\" For the youngest kids, writing may just be drawing a few lines, each line representing a word. Even minutes later, you can ask him what is on his play plan, and he can tell you exactly what he \"wrote.\" He understands that squiggle as easily as you read this.
In Neptune, New Jersey, we saw similar scenarios played out at the preschool level. One preschool-class was playing farm. During the non-play hours, the teachers taught the kids about all the farm animals, and the kids were growing real bean sprouts. During play time, they had centers in the class devoted to milking cows, picking vegetables, threshing the hay, and a farm stand for selling the vegetables. Another class played \"mail carrier.\" At one center the kids wrote letters to their grandparents and put them in mailboxes; mail carriers took them to the processing center to be sorted, then other mail carriers delivered the letters. We also saw \"beauty parlor\" and \"grocery store\" being enacted.
One more clarification: in Tough's article, he mentioned the debate between those who want preschools to teach reading and writing and those who want children to use the preschool years to develop self-control and symbolic abstract thought before they learn to read and write. It was our observation that no such tradeoff was being made by the kids in the Tools classrooms. Principally, this was because they were learning to write play plans for themselves as early as age three, and enjoyed doing it. By kindergarten, most kids were able to approximate full sentences, on their own. These kids weren't entering first grade really skilled at executive function but lagging on the basics of reading and writing. The children we saw were measurably ahead on writing and reading. In Denver, they are having to rewrite the first and second grade curricula, because the Tools kids have already completed most of that work in kindergarten.
This prized collection features 10 plays and sketches selected from 300 in two nationwide searches. Their plots and characters present modern, positive images of maturity with primarily female roles. Can be used for readers theatre or staged for any audience.
Editor, Bonnie L. Vorenberg, is a nationally recognized expert and pioneer in Creative Aging. She is known for her groundbreaking work as a Senior Theatre teacher, director, sp