Two stories - one on the Edutopia website and one in an Exchange Essentials article collection - speak to the importance of play and personal choice for children in early childhood settings.
Oi Ling Hu, in an article on Edutopia.org, wrote: "In my first year in a prekindergarten classroom, I was working as a substitute, and one day I was assigned to sit with a 4-year-old boy at arrival time to work on a packet of worksheets. The worksheets were about the letter of the week and... he was to write the letter over and over until the lines were all filled with the uppercase and lowercase letters.
He filled one line and grumbled, ‘Why do you always want us to do what you want us to do?’
I paused and looked at the worksheet, and thought to myself, ‘I don’t know.’ I worked with him until the lines were filled—he was then free to play. But I sat there contemplating what he had asked me.
Prior to that exchange, I had never really given much thought to the idea that worksheets could be less than stimulating for a child—or whether they were even developmentally appropriate...
I’m now in a play-based school where we don’t use worksheets, but to this day, I still think about that boy’s question...
As I teach today, I often ask myself and the children I teach, ‘Why are we doing this?’ I’ve learned over the years that one of the best motivators for young learners is providing them with opportunities to make choices. This goes beyond the usual day-to-day choice of who they get to play with and what toys they get to engage with. At my school, we work to give students choices that hold some responsibility within the classroom."
Elizabeth Jones, in an article that’s part of the Exchange Essentials collection "Play Into Practice," provides some questions and a story for educators:
"Did you play as a child? Ask this question in a group of adults and most can talk with pleasure about neighborhood games, outdoor adventures, and cozy hiding places. Ask, ‘What did you learn by playing?’ and the answers are remarkably thoughtful, encompassing creative imagination, moral judgment, negotiation, physical skills, and courage.
Once when I asked these questions of a teaching staff, one teacher insisted that she didn't play as a child. There were knowing nods among her colleagues; a notorious workaholic and perfectionist, she was an inflexible thinker unable to compromise on program issues. ‘I'll bet there's a connection,’ one of them said thoughtfully. I'll bet there is, too.
The spontaneous play of young children is their highest achievement. In their play, children invent the world for themselves and create a place for themselves in it. They are re-creating their pasts and imagining their futures, while grounding themselves in the reality and fantasy of their lives here-and-now. (Jones and Reynolds, 1992, p. 129)
Children at play are constructing their individual identities as well as their knowledge of the world."
Source: "Making Space for Student Choice in Preschool," by Oi Ling Hu, January 19, 2021, Edutopia.org
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