Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Play-based Connundrums Need Superheroes

My students love to engage in dramatic play - especially when it replicates things they enjoy. It can be challenging to know when it is necessary to set limitations to play. Body contact and red zone emotions (angry, mad) are clear flags that some teacher intervention is needed.  As a teacher who is new to ELKP, I have been struggling to know when to join into play, when to let the plot line develop and when to put the brakes on play.

Plot lines evolve over time in our room, but recurring themes tend to include zoo animals and puppies but most often involve Transformers, X-Men, the Avengers and Ninja Turtles. Recently a great number of my students spent the day with self-made ninja turtle bandannas glue-sticked to their foreheads.  The only theme I have banned from the classroom is that of the Walking Dead. I am a huge fan of the show and have read all of the graphic novels, but feel its content is not appropriate for the classroom setting. Having a young son of my own, I find it easy to follow the script of their play and I usually only intervene when they have created weapons, are escalating in volume or for the above mentioned red flags. 

Recently, I had some huge aha moments when reading The Play's the Thing: Teachers Roles in Children's Play by Elizabeth Jones & Gretchen Reynolds. (I came across the book on Twitter and was drawn to it - especially since one of the authors and I share the same name.) These superhero authors have done a wonderful job outlining the many roles of a teacher in a play-based environment: we are stage managers, mediators, players, scribes, assessors, communicators and planners.  I highly recommend the book if you have not already read it.  Reading it (and re-reading it) has helped me to recognize my strengths and set goals for improvement.

One of my take-aways from this book has been my changing understanding of my role as a mediator:  
"Teacher-as-mediator is not simply managing behavior; she is teaching social skills and suggesting ideas to enrich play." (p.36)

Upon reflection I realized that all too often I am acting as police officer in dramatic play - rather than mediator. It is a challenge to make the time to mediate play, especially when you are engaged in something like guided reading.  But I have come to realize that it is vital that I do so. In an attempt to quell the violent nature some of these play themes garner, I am finding that a simple prompt like, "who are you saving?" can do wonders to redirect the play to more positive themes that super heroes can invoke.

It is an uphill battle, and I am making baby steps - but I do believe in play.

What have you read that helped you define your role in the play-based environment?

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