Playing at School: An Inquiry Approach to Using an Experiential Play Lab in an Early Childhood Teacher Education Course

September, 2015

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 36:250–265, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aimed to document and analyze what happens when an experiential play lab is implemented in an early childhood teacher education program.

Twenty five college seniors, all female, in the 4th year of a 5-year teacher education program participated in this experience.

The authors conducted a 90-minute Play Experience during one month. During this session, the participants rotated through six play centers. The centers were equipped with typical early childhood materials, such as dolls and dollhouse furniture; play-dough; collage materials ect'.
For each round in the play centers, 3–4 students were assigned to play the role of children, and 3 students who served as teachers for the whole group. The teachers were told that they were all in charge of the whole group, and could move around or station themselves at a center as they saw fit.
The authors collected multiple forms of data in order to analyze the students' responses to the play experience, including two forms of reflective writings and group discussions.

The findings reveal that students made many more references to play in their defense of developmentally appropriate practices following the play lab, and the reasons they gave for the importance of play in early childhood classrooms became more diverse. Initially, the participants' assertions were almost entirely confined to the contribution of play to growth in various developmental domains and to learning connected with curricular goals.
Following the play lab, the participants’ responses still included many references to developmental domains and curricular goals, and also included assertions that suggested a deeper thinking about the actual process of “doing play”.

The students’ responses also expanded to include the power of play to promote engagement: “Play is fun, interesting, enjoyable and thus engaging for children”, “Play and exploration lead to disequilibrium, which makes children want to explore more” and “Play is more natural for students and provides them with a connection between what they are learning, what they are interested in, and how they will use the information in the future”. In these responses, the participants seem to be expressing their awareness that play is an activity mode well suited to the nature of young children, because it is intrinsically motivating.

Following the workshop, students also commented specifically about the various roles of the teacher in supporting play. These comments included, “It takes a lot of work to plan and implement a curriculum where most learning is done through play, but the benefits are worth the hard work.

Although the play lab was only one part of the complexity of a full semester course on curriculum and management in early childhood education, the authors are encouraged, by the observations they have described. They will continue to use the play lab as a tool in their efforts to strengthen students’ understanding of the nature and importance of play in classrooms for young children. 

Updated: Aug. 30, 2018