Play is a very important part of early childhood programs, and should be a major component included every day! Children are learning through all of the activities in which they are involved. The early childhood educator play a variety of roles that enhance play, and ensure that it is ‘intentional and purposeful’.
Early Childhood Educator Roles:
1. Stage manager – you provide the environments, time, equipment and materials to ensure that play is meaningful, purposeful, intentional and age/development appropriate. For programs that define themselves as ‘play based’, this is a key component so that the materials are provided that enhance learning.
2. Observer – Through observation you can come to fully respect and appreciate play. Have you ever just sat and observed? What did you see? All programs should be utilizing observations in order to see what children might need, and how to support them in play. Through observations, scaffolding can be used to support each child’s learning through play.
3. Protector and Mediator – Children need to feel safe from harm and relatively free from interference. What does interference mean here? You play the part of mediator to help collaborate with children as they work our conflicts instead of serving as rule enforcer. Many times we are too quick to intervene so no one gets hurt – as a protector you maintain the balance between guidelines that support and sustain play and excessive control that interferes or limits play. Be ware of how you enter play.
4. Participant – It was once believed that teachers should not become directly involved in the play of children. Play was where children were left to be free to work out their inner conflicts and exercise power over their environment. The duty of the adult was to stay our and not interfere.
Now, research has shown the benefits of joining children’s play. Children often learn through examples and modeling. An increase in vocabulary and the development of higher level thinking and problem solving can happen when the early childhood educator is involved with play. But, it is important for adults to take cues from the children and allow them to maintain control of the play or you risk disrupting the play and then it becomes “your” play instead of theirs.
Note: Violence and Children’s Play
Children’s play reflects children’s experience. Violence at home, in society, and in the media introduces children to violence and war play. It is important to provide a safe environment for children to play that does not allow for violent play. It is up to the early childhood educator to set the limits of what type of play or language is tolerated. For children that have a repertoire of violent play and language, provide alternative actions and vocabulary.