Why Our Teachers Don’t Play

A Case for NOT Playing with the Kids

If you listen in on an early childhood education course you might over hear these terms child-led, adult-led, adult-initiated and wonder what they mean. These are different ways of playing with children and each has their place in an early childhood center however more and more often we are seeing educators who are being taught to play with the children, to get down on their level and be part of the tea party, make up the games, be silly etc etc.

However something in play is lost when it is adult led. Adult-led play belongs where there is structure and too much structure leads to children who are not able to entertain themselves, who cannot be creative, who wait for the next thing to engage and entertain them so they become easily “bored”. We have all certainly encountered this in our lives and perhaps you thought to yourself I was never bored as a child, we just played.

While Adult-led play allows children to carry out activities that otherwise they would not be able to manage by themselves when adults lead the play the majority of the time children do not actually gain the skills they need to become independent in their play.

Children don’t develop play skills by playing with adults. Adults know how to share, to take turns, to adapt their play to fit the person they are playing with. Interacting with a child challenges them to communicate, to develop the most crucial

What is the “goal” of early childhood?

What skills will serve our young children best as they transition into elementary school?

Many parents would have us believe that knowing their ABCs and 123s, being able to write their name and fill in a worksheet are skills that will make them successful in kindergarten. However kindergarten teachers might paint you a different picture…

It is the children who are able to communicate and play with their peers who are best able to learn. The alphabet song can be taught in a week to a classroom full of children who have strong foundational play skills but an unruly classroom full of children who shout, hit, cry, exclude and ignore their peers makes for a very difficult learning environment.

Why does a focus on adult-led play harm a child’s play skills?

When an adult is the inspiration for play the child doesn’t have to be. The willingness to engage in their own creativity is dampened when an adult takes over. They become followers instead of leaders of their play. Say you have a classroom with a boy who is very loud, physical and boisterous and several of the boys in the class have only played with adults. They will follow the loud boy and your classroom will quickly become an unruly and very noisy mess. However imagine that several of the boys in your class have strong communication skills and can co-operate and play with one another without the teacher’s input. Now that loud physical boy becomes a follower of the other children’s behavior and his will to gain the skills he needs to engage in their play becomes activated.

Why? Because we are human beings. We are social, intelligent, thinking, feeling, willing creatures with a strong inner desire to be part of a group.