Laughter and rich conversations fill the air as teachers join students in purposeful play in Pre-K Expansion Grant classrooms across the State. Play based learning promotes engagement, curiosity and creativity. When teachers join children in their play they can scaffold learning opportunities, model language, introduce complex vocabulary and prompt deeper thinking through effective questioning. Play provides an opportunity for social learning and the development of executive functioning skills. In play, both the heart and the mind of the child are nurtured, reducing behavioral issues and supporting wellbeing while building the skills they need to be successful in school and beyond.
Pre-K children engage in a variety of different types of play in centers or interest areas in their classroom. Real-life imaginary play is incorporated into the dramatic play and building areas in Appleton’s new Pre-K classroom. This type of play allows children to think beyond the confines of their classroom and use their imaginations as they explore ways to use the materials they have to represent what they see in their minds. This type of play not only fosters creativity, but it also lays the foundation for symbolic representation with letters and numerals.
Creativity and problem solving are integral parts of play in the art area. Children in the Greenville Pre-K classroom use art materials to express themselves and create projects based on a story their teacher has read to them. Concepts of color, shape, texture, and position are built through conversations about their work. Teachers support children in developing important problem-solving skills when they join children in their play, and help to build growth mindsets by letting children try out their own ideas, and by encouraging them to try again if they are not successful.
Teachers do a lot of work behind the scenes to make play purposeful. They carefully plan centers and other learning activities around central themes and make intentional connections between the activities to help children see the purpose in what they are doing. While there is always a place for intentional instruction, Pre-K teachers work to bring playful elements to their lessons.
Pre-K classrooms are busy places. Play affords the opportunity to support learning across all domains and can even make “down time” a productive learning opportunity. Pre-K teacher, Marion Freehill, from Peninsula School in RSU 24, captured the enthusiasm her class had for their fire fighter puppets. You can also see the work her students have created to reflect on their play during centers time. Capturing their thoughts in writing helps them to see their ideas as important and is the first stage in them seeing themselves as writers.
If you wonder about the value of children spending most of their day playing in our Pre-k classrooms, don’t worry! In the words of Maria Montessori, “Play is the work of the child”. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees. In 2018 they released a clinical report advising that doctors write prescriptions for play. In the report they said, “Play is not frivolous; it is brain building” and lauded play as being fundamentally important to learning problem solving, collaboration and creativity. But perhaps Lenore Skenazy, president of the non-profit Let Grow which promotes childhood independence and resiliency, put it best, “Play turns out to be so stunningly essential to childhood it’s like love, sunshine and broccoli all juiced together”.
The classrooms included in this article are all beneficiaries of the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan’s Pre-K Expansion Grant. The grant supports districts beginning new Pre-K classrooms or expanding the hours or number of days they serve students in existing programs. Ten districts across the state were recipients in the first round of grants. Round two awards will be announced soon.
If you have questions or would like more information about Public Pre-K, the Pre-K Expansion Grant or the importance of play in early education, please contact Sue Gallant Maine DOE Pre-K Expansion Consultant at Sue.Gallant@maine.gov and/or Nicole Madore Maine DOE Early Childhood Specialist at Nicole.Madore@maine.gov.