Perhaps the least understood role for the
educator in play is that of participant. It
requires the artistry of a true facilitator to
find the balance between acting uninvolved
in the play and taking control of the experience.
This may not come easily to some initially, but with
experience, participation in children’s play can
become one of the most enjoyable parts of the school
day. Participation sends the message that the play is
valued. Through participation, educators can develop
their relationships with children, as well as learn more
about them as thinkers and language users.
The culture of children’s play remains, by and large, a
mystery to adults until they actually get inside of it.
The role of informed participant is to understand and
extend the play without intrusion or interference. The
informed participant knows when to step back and
observe and when to redirect.
This is an example of how an informed participant
can use observations to extend the play without
disrupting it. The goal in this case is to extend the
ideas of the play with the addition of new props that
connect to their scenario.
If we examine each of these stories of facilitation, the
multi-dimensional nature of learning through play
becomes clear. Each area of the curriculum is addressed
in a natural, integrated way. What the teacher does, as
seen in the car chase anecdote, is redirect toward an
area from the Social Studies curriculum for grade one
exploring children’s knowledge and understanding
of community workers, in particular, what they do in
the community and the tools they use. Children are
involved in using their personal knowledge of the role
of the ambulance and emergency room workers and
how they meet the needs of people in the community.
They are communicating their ideas and knowledge
through role play which is an important mode of
communication, especially for young children. In
observing the children, the educator may identify
a need for additional resources or experiences to
extend their knowledge. There does not have to be
competition between the mandated curriculum and
self-directed play.
Essentially, in facilitating play, educators need to
reflect on the following questions:
• When I look around the room, who needs my
• When is it an appropriate time for me to become
involved in the children’s play?
• How do I become involved in their play?
• What is my role when I do get involved? What do
they need?
• How much do I become involved without
overtaking the play?
• How will this particular child or group of children
react to my involvement?
The physical and social environment of the classroom
has an impact on children’s motivation and attitudes
about learning. In reflecting, teachers may ask:
• Is this classroom a place where children want to
• Do the children feel that they have a ‘voice’ and
are part of the decision- making process?
• Is this classroom a safe place for children to ask
questions, test, and try out ideas?
• Do the materials meet the children’s needs as
• Does the physical environment promote
exploration, investigation, collaboration, and

Informed Participation
Reflect on the Following
Play Partner
The children own their play.
Enter the play by invitation not intrusion.
Stay in role taken during play.
Don’t censure or impose judgment on the actions of children during play.
Act in role as directed by the lead child.
You will not be assigned the “boss” part which is reserved for the most advanced player.
Serve as a bridge for the excluded child by creating a role for him.
Jason is a shy boy, with little experience playing with other children. Each day he stands and
watches the other children playing at the Home Center. One morning as the teacher in role
begins to prepare for a party, she says, “Can I invite my new friend?”. The children are quite
enthusiastic and so she goes over to Jason, takes him by the arm and says, “We’re going to a
party”. At first, Jason is awkward and doesn’t stay in role, but with cajoling and patience. he
gets into the part. Several incidents like this and Jason is accepted and becomes part of the
When appropriate, redirect the action plan through a question or suggestion.
Take time to focus your attention on the play.
Without disrupting what is going on, you may be able to introduce a new challenge through
a question:
I wonder what would happen if we …?
Why isn’t this … happening?
Provide something new. The introduction of new materials stimulates curiosity. In observing
the children at the water table, the teacher noticed that the play was repetitive.
The children have been playing at the water table for several days. They were familiar with the
materials and had been using them for pouring water back and forth. The teacher introduced
a siphon and posed the question:
How does this work?
What could it be used for?
Initially, it may not be necessary to pose a question before children have explored what the
material might do. Based on observations, it may be appropriate to pose a question to extend
the learning after children have made their initial discoveries.