Creation of Play Spaces
During my time as the Lead Teacher for Pre-K at Cornerstone Daycare Center, I have found that one of my favorite things to do is to create enjoyable, safe, age appropriate play spaces. These past few months, I attended graduate school and watched webinars from home which have expanded my knowledge in terms of the importance of play and the creation of play spaces for young children. Therefore, I applied the knowledge I had obtained to my classroom and found the result to be remarkably beneficial. The act of play is essential for a child’s development socially, cognitively, and physically. Areas in which a child can access or partake in play are called play spaces. Play spaces are areas that can be designated with the purpose of playing with materials or equipment that stimulate play, however these areas can also be spontaneous spaces that have no initial notion that play will happen. They can be outdoors such as in their yards and in a park or be indoors like in the home and in the classroom. They can be created by children themselves or they can be created by an adult, parent, teacher, nurse, etc. They are places located for the purpose of playing. They are meant to be used to play, explore, interact, teach, learn, and socialize.
As a teacher, I have always tried to remember the things I enjoyed as a small child and promoted these values and activities within my classroom. As a child my play space was either outside, such as on the playground, in my backyard, in the woods, in the river, or indoors, such as in my living room or at school. A lot of my play spaces were actually created by both myself and the adults around me. I realize now as an adult that my parents allowed us to explore, adjust, and play as we needed without much interference. My parents did give my siblings and I a set of rules which included respect for others and responsibility for our belongings. The main rule that we all knew was “we clean up what we mess up”. They provided us with a plethora of toys, whether they were more scientific where we could expand our exploration skills and get answers to our scientific inquiries and ones that were purely bought for us due to our interests, wants, and desires. An important part of our play was having access to nature which provided my siblings and I the opportunity to experience things we would not have if we had stayed indoors all day. It gave us more space to freely run around and make experiences of the things we learned in a classroom. My childhood mostly consisted of “unstructured imagination time”. As a child, my favorite play spaces were typically ones I could create, which I realize now my parents gave us as children the freedom to do so. I would love to play under the dining room table for instance and my mom was always fine with that just as long as I cleaned whatever toys I would bring down from my room and put them back in my toy box by dinnertime. One of my favorite moments as a child was when I would make forts out of the couch cushions with my little brother. We would yell out we are making a cave and to stay out. Yes, at times, my father would come and destroy the fort because company was coming over and needed to be seated in the living room but I remember this time when my dad brought a big white sheet instead and said here this is a very special magical cave and draped it over the dining room chairs for us. He provided us with a flashlight and our natural form of play expanded from there.
As an adult and a teacher at Cornerstone Daycare Center, I try to keep these in mind. The creation of play spaces within my classroom has always been something I hold to the utmost importance. I have taken all those parts of my childhood and have tried to apply them within my classroom. I design and designate where items are kept and where they can be played with, however in my classroom the children also are able to create their play spaces just as my parents had allowed me to. They have the chance to move items around, for example, place animals in sand that weren’t initially placed there or to use the space under my teacher’s desk to build a lighthouse out of blocks surrounded by water since the floor tiles in the classroom are blue. They are able to take the information from the academic curriculum and expand it to fit them and their ideas. Children will ask to play at a certain location in the classroom and are provided an opportunity to explore their play as long as they are safe. They know the rules that we keep an inside voice, stay safe, share with our friends, and clean up before we leave to go to another area. Just as my parents had done for me, I try to guide and support them and their needs.
Over these last few months, I have realized the key to a child’s learning is to provide them opportunities to grow and expand their thinking through the act of play. I have found that it does not matter necessarily which materials are there, children will learn and thrive as long as they are supported along the way. I have learned to be present and encourage their creativity and imaginations; whether that’s laying on the floor for them to build blocks around you or pretending to be in a fancy Italian restaurant and ordering the most outrageous playdough pizzas yet only paying a penny for it. It is about enjoying their play and teaching them in those moments by adding to their own ideas. Even during remote learning with COVID -19 going on, giving the children options, the freedom to choose, having the activities be interactive and fun, being present and excited about learning each day, that is what is important at this age. It has been interesting to see what children can create with a little imagination even with the lack of classroom supplies in their homes. Children are in need of play spaces. They are able to expand their play, expand their thinking, expand their social skills, and expand their learning by just having the opportunity and access to play in these areas whether that is at home or in the classroom. Children should have freedom and make choices for themselves and how they would like to play. The act of play is essential to a child’s growth, so it is essential we create and allow them to create play spaces that suit their needs.