Academic journal article American Journal of Play

More Play, Please: The Perspective of Kindergarten Teachers on Play in the Classroom

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

More Play, Please: The Perspective of Kindergarten Teachers on Play in the Classroom

Article excerpt

The past decade has seen an increase in research documenting the benefits of children learning through play. However, the amount of play in American kindergarten classes remains on a steady decline. This article compares the findings from a netnographic study of seventy-eight kindergarten teachers' message board discussions about play in kindergarten with those of more traditional studies and finds the teachers' discussions in broad agreement with past research. The results further demonstrate that kindergarten teachers feel pressures from other teachers, principals, and school policies to focus on academic goals and that these pressures lead them to limit play. The author argues for further research to develop effective strategies to help teachers include play in kindergartens rather than merely increasing teacher awareness of the benefits of play. She details how a netnographic approach can complement traditional methods for understanding how teachers treat play in their classrooms. Key words: kindergarten; netnography; No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB); play-based teaching; Social Ecological Theory (SET)

Play in American Kindergartens

In the past decade, play research has witnessed a rise in two seemingly contradictory trends. First, the research increasingly shows that play expedites a variety of social, cognitive, motor, and linguistic improvements (Eberle 2011; Fisher et al. 2011). Social play allows children to become more creative and more adept at explaining meaning verbally, more successful at manipulating different symbol systems, and more confident when experimenting with new activities (Bjorklund and Gardiner 2011; Eberle 2011; Pellegini 2009). In school settings, teachers gently guide play, using play-based teaching and learning activities to promote curricular goals while maintaining the critically important aspects of play-such as children's intrinsic motivation to engage in play (Bordova, Germeroth, and Leong 2013; Eberle 2014; Fisher et al. 2011). Whether free or guided play (and, unless I state otherwise, I refer to all play that occurs during kindergarten class time collectively as "play" throughout this article), play in the classroom fosters improvements in such subjects as mathematics, language, early literacy, and socio-emotional skills, and it does so for children from both low- and higher-income environments (Duncan et al. 2007). In addition to such specific subject skills, researchers contend that, as a major outcome, play helps children learn to cooperate with others and engage in socially appropriate behavior (Bordova et al. 2013; Eberle 2011). In time, these social competencies developed through play transfer to children's everyday behaviors (Elias and Berk 2002). Because play's benefits are so extensive, play has been asserted as an evolutionary and developmentally important activity (Bateson and Martin 2000; Eberle 2011, 2014). Researchers have posited that play enables developments in the prefrontal cortexes of mammals, including humans (Pellis, Pellis, and Himmler 2014). The premise that play serves a serious purpose of acquiring skills and experience needed in adulthood has long been a central feature in play research (Bateson 1987). Consequently, play should be viewed as a valuable classroom activity that enables children to develop a wide variety of social and academic skills (Copple and Bredekamp 2009; Fisher et al. 2011).

Second, and paradoxically, in spite of the many benefits of play recognized by academics, recent years have seen a steady decrease in the amount of time kindergarten classes devoted to play (Brownson et al. 2010; Frost 2008; Meisels and Shonkoff 2000). Past research has well documented the challenges American public school kindergarten teachers face in implementing play in their classes and the shift towards more academically focused kindergarten teaching. Jeynes (2006) traces the change in academic kindergarten back to three key issues. One, in the 1960s, public schools eliminated religious activities in classrooms. …

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