Monday, November 8, 2010

Play Has Become Controversial!

“Play has become a controversial topic”

I heard this sentence at the NAEYC conference in California this week and I was deeply saddened.

 How can this be?

Play is the most natural behavior in which all humans and animals participate.  It has been studied and documented by the early theorists, such as Piaget and Erikson, and further proven to be of inherent value by the slew of brain research concluded in the last ten or so years. 

And yet, in 2010, it has become a controversial topic?  The NAEYC held meetings this week to develop a position statement on play.  The early childhood community is gearing up to defend a fundamental construct of learning. 

Play is being removed from the classrooms and being replaced by more seatwork and standardized test preparation.  Kindergartens are losing their block centers, dramatic play areas and sensory tables. 
In order to secure funding and to ease the angst of parents concerned for the success of their children, programs are often adopting curricula that their own teachers do not believe in, or are, in fact, against. 

I spoke with many talented and devoted educators this week who want to implement emergent curriculum in their classrooms and follow the lead of the children. These stressed teachers are fighting with center directors about having to follow rigid curricula.   Quite a few spoke to me of the lack developmental appropriateness of these curricula.  A few were actually teary eyed as they spoke to me of their struggles. 

It is the time to stand strong, fellow educators.  We are in the classrooms with these children every day. We know the value of play and the critical role it plays in creating life-long learners. 

But, we must be willing to educate not only our students, but our parent populations and our communities.  I am urging you to attend meetings of public policy, to network with other educators who understand the value of play, and to stand strong in your convictions.  In order to do this, you will need to truly understand what it is and how it is, that children learn this way.  We need to be able to articulate and document the incredible learning that is occurring while children play.  We need many voices. 

As I reflect on my week at the NAEYC conference I am invigorated by the time I spent surrounded by dedicated educators, administrators and policy makers working diligently to provide incredible learning opportunities for children. I also leave this experience with an incredible sense of responsibility to be an advocate for play. 

I want you to join me in this endeavor and I’d love to hear how you will do that.


  1. It just goes to show Dana ... early childhood educators the world over are not given the respect they deserve! Why do 'THEY' not listen to 'US'?????
    Donna :( :(

  2. I hear this plight from ECE educators on a daily basis. I suggest they stand strong for what they believe in, but understand the complexities they face especially against those who work on assumptions, rather than action based learning and evidence driven strategies. I, alongside several other facilitators in the state of Queensland have been holding professional conversations around the EYLF with service providers, government agencies and independent consultants. If we are to have advocates in positions of power for play based curricula to continue it is important that we work closely with this sector to unpack values and assumptions and clarify their understanding of what an emergent curriculum and a play based philosophy actually looks like. If we are not proactive and tap into the key stakeholders then we are only working with one level of educators... mostly those who are already on board. I am very passionate about the concept of play based learning and include some ideas and suggestions on my blog and FB page. Feel free to check it out Thanks for your blog have provoked so many questions for me.