With playdoh, the children are creating a visual
display about their favourite animal’s habitat,
what it looks like and what the animal needs
to survive. If they make an error, it can quickly
be changed.
Using Legos and K’nex®, Eric begins designing
the Golden Gate bridge. As he nears completion,
he places a car on top and it collapses. He
rebuilds and talks with his classmates about
how he can improve his design to make it
more durable.
Play is interactive
• Vygotsky (1976) argued decades ago that
all play is social. Even a baby wants a play
partner, not to show him how to play, but
simply to have someone with whom to
interact. Play is the way children learn to
take their place in a social context. This
cannot be learned any other way.
A New Look At Play
One of the reasons there is such
resistance to play in school is the
ambiguity about the nature of play.
There are many different ways to
look at it. Playing a sport is not the same as
rough-house play. Playing house is not the
same as putting on a play. What then is meant
by the term play as applied to school?
For the most part, there is general agreement
that play is a spontaneous, free, joyous, and
satisfying activity that is not controlled by the
expectations and directives of others. Play is
an activity freely undertaken for the value it
brings in and of itself.
Authentic play has the following
Play is natural and instinctive
• All children play, no matter the
environment or culture. However, it is
tragic that for some children in the world,
play is replaced by work to meet basic
needs of survival. Play is as much a part of
the landscape of childhood as nurturing.
No one has to teach a baby how to play
with her toes, or provide instruction to a
toddler on how to play with blocks. Older
children too retain the play instinct as they
construct a clubhouse, make up a new ball
game, or explore musical instruments.
The teacher in the classroom creates the
environment for play and provides the
opportunities for children take the play in
their own direction.
At the science centre, students experiment with
cars and ramp. They create a ramp and race
the cars down the slope. After each car has been
tested, the children start over by changing the
slope and begin the next race.

The class had been discussing healthy foods
and plan on making a breakfast buffet for
the class to enjoy. In the group discussion,
Vida suggests creating a restaurant where
the food would be just like a ‘real’ restaurant.
The children enthusiastically embrace the idea.
They make decisions about the menu, where to
place the table and the chairs, where the cash
register will go, how they will take orders, and
how they will decorate the table to make it like
a ‘real’ restaurant. As they engage with each
other, they use language for different purposes.
They negotiate as to who will be the servers and
who will be the customers, who will count the
money, and who will clean up.
Play is repetitive
• Repetition is an important aspect of play
at any level. It is through repetitive actions
that children integrate new learning into
existing frameworks of understanding.
They need to see the predictability that
comes through repeating something over
and over. This is the process that solidifies
Boards and cars have been added to the block
area, and each day a small group of children
sets up ramps for racing vehicles. By repeating
the experience, they learned which cars go the
fastest, which ones go the slowest, and which
ones just won’t go straight at all. They also
learned that cars will fly off the ramp if it is it
too high. They discovered that when they set
the ramp on the rug, the vehicles slow down at
the bottom, but that cars travel a much greater
distance when the ramp is set on bare floor.
They worked out a system for a ‘fair’ start by
placing a ruler in front of the cars and lifting
it up. The teacher documented their learning
and asked them to share their discoveries with
others. Their reflections motivated the interest
of their classmates.
Play is inventive
• Play sets the imagination in motion. It
provides opportunities for the creative
power to grow and strengthen over time
and with experience.
Aaron is motivated by the story Galimoto
which tells of a boy who collects wire and other
objects to create a toy that moves. He chooses
to go to the technology centre that is filled with
nuts, bolts, wire, wheels to make his own toy
with wheels. He selects some materials and
sets straight to work. Aaron finds it challenging
to fix the wheels and have them move so he
asks for assistance. He returns to his creation
each day, trying to get the wheels to balance
and move smoothly.