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  • Writer's picturecathybelgrave

When We Feel Stuck: Towards a Play-Based Practice

As I continue my journey with play-based learning, I'm realizing that to create an environment for children to inquire deeply and learn through play, we have to start by understanding ourselves as educators. Often, when I feel stuck as an educator it is because of a perception coming from within myself; it's not because of the children.

We come to the play-based practice with passion and the belief that learning through play is the way children learn best. We set up play invitations, observe the children, document, reflect, and offer opportunities for deeper exploration. We know the process, yet we can find ourselves feeling stuck. We sometimes succumb to idyllic pictures on social media and wonder why we can't create the same flow. When the children have conflict, we somehow feel discouraged or feel the need to step in and facilitate a resolution to regain the flow. Or maybe we've set up a beautiful invitation that we believe follows the children's interests - the children are engaged, then along comes a child who uses the materials in a different way and all the others follow their lead, disrupting the established flow, and you feel that your invitation has been hijacked. How do we regroup and move forward?

We seek to stay mindful of our perspectives, even as we're curious to understand the children's perspectives ~ Ann Pelo


To move forward and grow our play-based practice we need to be self-aware. As we move around the classroom observing the children, we can ask ourselves:

  • Do I have certain expectations?

  • Do I have the urge to step in and limit conflict? Do I tense up? What emotions am I feeling?

  • Am I taking the children's responses personally?

  • Am I judging certain children based on their behaviour?

  • Am I responding in a way that doesn't mirror my beliefs about children and play?

  • Have I made assumptions or labelled certain children?

  • Am I worried about what parents will think? what admin will think?

It takes courage to look at ourselves honestly. And as we reflect, it's important not to judge ourselves. Taking the time, and giving oneself the gift of self reflection, helps us to understand our vulnerabilities, our judgments. With understanding, we can shift our limiting perceptions, adjust the framework we use to view the children, play and learning. With awareness comes the possibility for change.

Teaching is learning. They are inseparable. The humility of a teacher is born when this is realized. Only then does teaching really begin. ~ Vince Gowmon

Children Communicate to Us All the Time

What if we looked at children's behaviour as communication? Children communicate to us in a wide variety of ways ~ through their body language, their ability or lack of ability to share, their resistance, their movements, emotional meltdowns, to name a few. By having the awareness, we can entre situations more prepared, we can observe the children from a different perspective. We can ask ourselves:

  • What is the child, the situation showing me? What is the discomfort?

  • What is my learning opportunity?

Our answers serve as a guide, moving us to de-personalize and look at the children's behaviour as communication. We are able to see the bigger picture of what's going on for them. We are able to notice our immediate reactions, and see our own learning opportunity. By taking that opportunity we empower ourselves to grow, shift limiting perspectives and develop our play-based practice, opening a greater space of authenticity for the children and ourselves.


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