It is important to pay more attention to play, not only because it helps us understand how children develop, but because understanding the different experiences children have while they play will enable us to nurture them further and encourage them to continue exploring their interests and desires. Play is a holistic experience for children in that they use a myriad of skills, as well as physical, emotional and social expressions that are essential to their development. Because play happens spontaneously and is not something teachers can truly instruct children to do, it is important to closely monitor why and how play occurs. By documenting anecdotal evidence of the experiences children have during play, teachers can be more responsive to their needs. Teachers who pay attention to how children play will be more successful at interacting and responding to children when they possess the intention of further encouraging a child’s learning. A teacher who does not pay attention to children at play will not be able to intervene at the right time and will therefore not be able to provide children with the care and attention they require.
Educators can support children’s play by providing encouragement and showing interest in the experiences children create, as well as creating a physical environment that allows the children control. As Diane Nyisztor and Barbara Marcus (2009) explain, the role of educators is to “scaffold, teach, encourage, ignite imagination, and playfully participate” (p. 18). The arrangement of the physical environment and the length of time children are given to play allows them the freedom to explore and the means to use the full extent of their imaginations. Educators can motivate children to design their own play experiences and then participate and show interest in those experiences through positive interventions. For example, educators can ask questions, make suggestions and help the child see beyond the current play experience by introducing them to other things they may be interested in (p.17). This shows children that their ideas are valuable and encourages them to continue learning through exploration. By engaging children, responding to their interests, and creating an environment that is conducive to their ideas, educators are providing a supportive environment that will allow children to continue developing through play.