Creating Inclusive, Literacy-Embedded Play Centers in a Children’s Museum: Connecting Theory to Practice

Sep. 01, 2012

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Vol. 33, No. 4, p. 382–391, 2012.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article discusses how preservice teachers connected theory to practice in a service learning project that provided an additional field opportunity.
Through this experience, teacher candidates connected theory to practice by creating inclusive, literacy-embedded play centers (LEPC) for a local children’s museum.

Participants and Methods
A total of 33 preservice teachers enrolled in one of two teacher education courses at a rural Pacific Northwest university participated in the project.
Those participants included special education, early childhood, or elementary education majors.
In this teacher education program, all preservice teachers participate in a pre-autumn 2- week field experience in their junior or senior year, as well as a quarter-long student teaching experience near the end of their schooling.

Data were collected through three sources:
The first source was the plans submitted to the instructors at the beginning of the project.
The second was the brochures created by the teacher candidates that explained the exhibits to the museum patrons.
Third, the reflective papers based on the preservice teachers’ observations of the LEPC were analyzed.


There is a need for teacher candidates to connect theory to practice in order to implement activities effectively that will encourage growth in young children.
This study describes how the preservice teachers designed and developed LEPC in a community setting while reflecting upon the connections made between theory and practice.
Specifically, they were able to name and describe the domains of learning, aspects of play, and principles of inclusive, literacy-embedded play centers.
As a result, they were provided with real-world applications of course concepts.
The course concepts of developmental domains, play, and inclusive practices are essential for working with preschool age children.

When examining the theoretical base for this article, the authors found few instances of earlier research in which preservice teachers had the opportunity to design, create, observe, and refine physical learning environments.
Hence, the authors suggest that providing novice teachers with an experience in alternative field placements in which play is important and integrates various domains informs their teaching practices.
Using a children’s museum as an alternative field experience site allowed these preservice teachers to apply the course content learned.
Through this field experience, preservice teachers were able to connect course content to practice, cited previously as a valuable aspect of initial teacher education.


This study has implications for teacher candidate preparation.
The LEPC projects have encouraged teacher candidates to connect coursework to literacy-play activities for children with and without disabilities.
The development of the centers has provided the opportunity for collaboration among peers and community partners to work toward a common goal; that is, the inclusion of all students. Changing attitudes about inclusion in both the general education and special education community requires work outside the classroom.

The combination of classes (early literacy and preschool for children with disabilities) encouraged collaboration between teacher candidates in general and special education.
Furthermore, it is important to lay the groundwork for this collaboration to encourage inclusion of all students in activities in which children can construct knowledge through play.
Teacher-directed play needs to be intentionally included in order to facilitate play among children with disabilities.
Assessment of children in play environments provides valuable information regarding development of play, as well as learning across developmental domains.

Therefore, children’s museums as field experiences for preservice teachers show promise as alternative placements.
The museum setting reflects a typical classroom environment for planning and observation that requires attention to accessibility.
Alternative field experience venues for early childhood teacher candidates increase theory to practice opportunities.
Preservice teachers have reflected about their experiences to include positive attitudes toward collaboration, inclusion, and the ability to observe play and literacy activities in an authentic setting.
Specifically, children’s museums offer an opportunity for preservice teachers to construct inclusive environments that promote discovery, literacy, and play.

Updated: Jul. 21, 2014