The term pump priming was used by Sara
Smilansky (1969), a foremost authority on
children’s play and learning, to describe the
teacher’s role in infusing children’s play with
new ideas. This might be accomplished by providing
direct experiences such as a field trip or attending a
live theatrical production. It may also be accomplished
by reading to children, viewing a documentary film,
or bringing an interesting guest into the classroom.
Educators are well aware that what children take from
an experience may not be immediately apparent.
Pump priming by the teacher is a means of stimulating
interest and providing focus for self-directed play.
While this may seem a contradiction, it is always
important for teachers to expand the students’
interests and knowledge beyond what they may
get at home. As educators’ observe children’s play
they may recognize that another type of experience
will extend or enrich the play. They may also plan
experiences that will stimulate play. (Listening to a
story about boats motivated some to want to make
their own boats to test at the water table. Counting to
50 in different ways prompted one child to build two
circles of 25 blocks to make 50. Putting a frame over
the wooden sandbox with hooks on the top cross bar
led children to experiment with pulleys to lift and
empty the sand.) One of the challenges is providing
opportunities for children to make connections to
personal experiences and to objects, systems, and
events in the world in which they live.
Pump Priming
Reflect on the Following
Through Direct Experience
What direct experiences can take place in the school playground?
What is in the children’s immediate environment?
(local park, interesting business such as a bakeshop, construction site )?
Excursions into the broader community:
• Local theatre production.
• Museums.
• Nature areas, farms, zoos.
• Mall.
Bring the community into the classroom, invite:
e.g. artists, musicians, community workers, parents to demonstrate a
hobby or skill, business owners, etc.
Through Vicarious Experience
Literature (fiction, nonfiction, poetry).
Personal accounts.