Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Future Professionals' Perceptions of Play in Early Childhood Classrooms

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Future Professionals' Perceptions of Play in Early Childhood Classrooms

Article excerpt

This study investigates the perceptions of 207 college students in early childhood education and child and family studies (future professionals) regarding the role of play in early childhood classrooms. The results indicate that future professionals in their freshman and sophomore years in college held relatively positive perceptions of play in early childhood education. However, starting with juniors in college, these perceptions followed a notably different pattern. Although participants generally perceived play in early childhood classrooms as important, these students possessed different perceptions about the role of play in relation to childhood learning and play as a curriculum. Upperclass participants expressed lower positive perceptions, a viewpoint that seemed to begin in 3rd-year students and was particularly evident in seniors. Taking play-related courses in college appeared to help education students maintain positive perceptions about play until their senior year. Given that after graduation, these future professionals will soon enter the education field where child-initiated play-based curriculum, standards-based curriculum, and accountability issues frequently collide, the results of this study will shed light on important elements for preparing future professionals for early childhood classrooms. Implications of the study are discussed, and recommendations for future research are also provided.

Keywords: future professionals, play, perceptions, early childhood classrooms

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Scholars suggest that early childhood teachers' perceptions of play in early childhood classrooms depend largely on the preparation these teachers received while they were students, coupled with their own personal beliefs about play (Johnson, Christie, & Wardle, 2005; Trawick-Smith & Dziurgot, 2010). Even with the preparation received in these programs, some early childhood teachers are known to view the role of play as unimportant or as an ineffective medium for learning (Bodrova & Leong, 2003a). According to Johnson et al. (2005), practicing teachers face significant pressure from national and state standards, including "the pressure to achieve short-term outcomes" (p. 10) in many of these early childhood classroom settings.

As a result, many early childhood teachers change or adapt their practices in the classroom, thus minimizing the elements of play found in their curriculum and classroom practices (Bodrova & Leong, 2003a; Hatch & Freeman, 1988). According to Bodrova and Leong (2003b), "The growing demands for teacher accountability and measurable outcomes for prekindergarten and kindergarten programs are pushing play to the periphery of the curriculum" (p. 50). Although teachers may have recognized the importance of play in young children's classrooms when they started their teaching careers, national and state educational contexts and the numerous challenges that now relate to academic accountability and standards-based curricula may have led them to change their perceptions to become more congruent with what they actually need to practice in their classrooms.

Lee (2006) appears to support this presumption. In her study, the majority (78%) of practicing teacher participants (n = 18) shared the belief that preschoolers should learn through self-exploration and self-discovery play. Yet despite these beliefs, the teachers chose to adopt the perception that play in early childhood classrooms is not that important for children's learning and thus not as significant for teaching as they initially believed. Bodrova and Leong (2003b) concluded that "some proponents of more academically rigorous programs for young children view play and learning as mutually exclusive, clearly favoring 'serious' learning and wanting teachers to spend more time on specific academic content" (p. 50).

Then, how do college students taking education and child-and-family-related courses actually perceive the role of play in education? …

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