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Thursday, 18 February 2021 20:10

What is Child Directed Play? Featured

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What is Child Directed Play?

Child directed play is an important part of learning at The Antioch School. Providing the environment for children to direct their play-both individually and in groups, affords them opportunities to explore the world in an authentic way, outside of adult direction. When children direct their own play they make exciting and original connections. Instead of being told what to see, they learn to see for themselves. In this post, we’ll define child directed play, explore its benefits, and provide examples of the ways it works at The Antioch School. 

What is child directed play?

Child directed play can be defined as the freedom for children to pursue their own interests and agendas during playtime. To indulge and grow  their imaginations. At The Antioch School, this means the children are encouraged to gravitate towards their unique interests and to take leadership roles as they play. While they are free to ask for support, the children find their own interests without being prompted by adults. Oftentimes, children are bombarded with directions from adults who tell them what to do, or influence their ideas about what to play, or how. At The Antioch School, child directed play means the children decide- both individually and in groups, what they are going to play, and how, without adult interference. 


Why is child directed play important?

Child directed play is important because it allows children the agency to direct and guide their learning. It gives them the freedom of choice . Where does the game go from here? How will these block pieces interact?  Do I want to play with the blocks more, or move on? These are some examples of questions children might ask themselves when they are directing their own play. Being able to answer these questions and direct themselves enhances each child’s capacity to be self reliant, because they’re not waiting on the direction of an adult. According to the Seattle Learning Center,  this can even boost a child’s self esteem. When young learners direct their own play, they are able to learn more about their interests based on what they gravitate towards, not what an adult directs them to. By defining the parameters of their games the children have the space to make authentic, unique connections, and to learn more about themselves.  

Child directed play and the role of the teacher:

The teacher has a very important role acting as the facilitator for children navigating individual and group play. Through careful observation, the teacher notes each child's development throughout the year in order to support them in their learning. “My role as a teacher,” describes kindergarten teacher: Lindie Keeton, “is to observe each child’s development, interests, and needs so that I can provide materials, support, and encouragement at the appropriate times.” In this way, the teacher establishes a safe and exciting learning environment, a container for the children to dream up their own rules, worlds, and games. The teacher holds a supportive role bolstering each child’s agency. They are a fundamental pillar in supporting the children as they explore, play, and learn for themselves. 

Child directed play and the 7 principles of child centered learning:

The principles of child centered learning are the pillars of our community, upholding child directed play. The principles include: play and curiosity, self discovery, the whole child, choice and consequences, taking reasonable risks, and empathy, caring, and mutual trust. The principles are affirmative in that they offer a broad guide to informing group and individual play. The children are free to direct their play within the guidelines of the principles. Children are encouraged to take reasonable risks, and to be curious. They are supported in conflict resolution as the need arises and play is mitigated only in so far as it is in line with the principles. 

A few examples of child directed play this year:

Child directed play takes many forms.This means that child directed play will look slightly different based on age differences and between individual vs. group play.

The playground is an exciting world for the nursery children. It’s a place where spontaneous games are invented and established. It is always captivating to watch the children develop games themselves, establishing the rules, and roles as they go along. Last week, I observed a few nursery children invent a game on the slide. The main goal was to wobble up the slide holding a blue ball, get as far up as possible, then quickly stand upright to throw it through the opening at the top of the slide where it meets the staircase. All of the children who wanted to join in had a lot of fun working together and taking turns. This child directed group game became an exciting triathlon of sorts. 

The idea for the Kindergarten group to hike at Agraria started in the Glenn. When examining the group, and picking up rocks, a little girl decided she wanted to make a rock collection. She asked Lindie if she could keep the small, damp rocks cradled in her hand. But because the Glenn is a nature preserve, Lindie explained “the rocks couldn’t leave the park.” Hmmm, this little girl gave Lindie an idea! While it was not possible for the children to collect rocks at the Glenn, they could collect rocks at Agraria. So Lindie set up a day to hike and camp out at the ecological and educational center. The muddy creek bank, farm, and maze were so enchanting that the first trip turned into two more because the children enjoyed it so much they wanted to keep coming back. Children make things happen, and this is an example of it. From one little girl's idea to collect rocks, Lindie was able to make the arrangements, and now Agraria is a special place for the whole group. 


A group of Older Group boys stand on a series of wobbly logs, trying to keep their feet steady. Their movements are minuscule, but they are moving, slowly, inching around one another one at a time. The logs are loose, but the boys bend their knees, leaning into the motion as they sway. They brace themselves, working hard to stand up straight. The objective is simple: stay on the log and help each other across. One of the boys wearing red sneakers slipped on the damp bark with green moss growing from it. The group of boys gasp in unison- a sharp inhale. The tension is released when they all jump down to the ground. “Man down,” a boy in a green t-shirt calls. The team stops, they reassess, it’s time to start over. The older group also makes up games using logs, rocks, tree branches, or whatever’s on the playground. This balancing game was fun and collaborative challenge. It also required teamwork and cooperation, as every child supported each other in getting across the logs. 


Facilitating child directed play:

Child directed play is an important part of every child’s development, and-at The Antioch School, it also informs the unique development of every group, too. Through child directed play, the children have the opportunity to choose their activities and to create complex games that are meaningful to them. When directing their play, every game is guided by every child’s  unique sense of wonder. These games are imbued with an authentic creativity unable to be recreated by adult instruction. 


Read 580 times Last modified on Thursday, 18 February 2021 20:49