Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fantasy Play

I love learning what other people have to say about teaching preschoolers and kindergartners. I have read a couple of books by Vivian Gussin Paley. She has dedicated herself to learning about the fantasy play of children and how that impacts their learning and growth. 

Recently I completed reading A Child's Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play. Paley again features scenarios and quotes from children's play. I am so fascinated by her experiences and her conclusions. Here are some of my favorite quotes from this book.

"The mind that has been freely associating with playful imagery is primed to tackle new ideas. Fantasy play, rather than being a distraction, helps children achieve the goal of having an open mind, whether in the service of further storytelling or in formal lessons."

"Anyone who spends time with young children quickly recognizes their passionate attachment to fantasy and their need to alter time and place in rapid scene changes. Put any group of children together and they will make up stories that run alongside our own."

"Play is the model for the life-long practice of trying out new ideas. Pretending is the most open-ended of all activities, providing the opportunity to escape the limitations of established rituals. Pretending enables us to ask 'What if?'"

"In dramatic play, language becomes more vivid and spontaneous, enabling young children to connect, with greater fluency and curiosity, the words and phrases they know to new ideas."

"Though fantasy propels the child to heights over and above his ordinary level and was considered the original pathway to literacy, it is now perceived by some as an obstacle to learning. We are allowed to nourish play only so long as it initiates reading, writing, and computing."

"Play may be the work of children, but we, the teachers sometimes lost patience with what happens when the characters become too 'heroic.' In theory such play is fine, but the dramas that erupt can be loud and messy."

"We removed the element--time--that enabled play to be effective, then blamed the children when their play skills did not meet our expectations."

"We continue to call play the work of young children while reducing its appearance to brief interludes."

I agree that in many classrooms, the spontaneous "work" of the child is being diminished and supplanted with "academics." Paley says that the culprit is not the addition of academic elements but the reduction of time in fantasy and pretend play. 

If nothing else, Paley continues to reinforce that offering this type of play helps children become competent learners. I want to continue to offer these types of learning experiences as much as possible. It's fun, develops social skills, and lays foundations for future learning. Let's pretend!


  1. Scott, I believe Pale hit the nail on the head when she said ... that the culprit is not the addition of academic elements but the reduction of time in fantasy and pretend play.
    Time schedules, although important and necessary really do interfere with our children's needs for long periods of uninterrupted, open ended play based learning experiences.
    Donna :) :)

  2. Vivian Paley is one of my heroes. Thanks for posting this. I've not read or re-read any of her books for a long time. I must correct that!

  3. I teach first grade, and I truly wish we still had time in our day to allow play based learning. When I was in college I remember writing so many papers about the importance of play in the early childhood classroom--but now it seems it is being pushed to the side to squeeze in more academics. I feel like pretty soon we won't even be able to let our kids have recess. Thanks for posting. Wonderful blog!


  4. Great post, but what make is that dolls house thing I LOVE it

  5. alljoinin - It's from Kaplan Early Learning Company - "Block Play Dollhouse with Furniture" (CL-15868)
    I bought it online for a discount price - I'm not sure if it's still available. You can search on their Web site:

    (The kids love it, by the way.)