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  • Writer's pictureTara O'Brien

Outcome Infused Play in the Early Years

As an Early Years teacher, I understand the value of free, child-directed play. During play, young children engage in language, cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development. They learn how to better navigate their world…their way. Usually during play-time I alternate between observing children at play and working with small groups of children in a more teacher-directed activity. This is the case in most Early Years classrooms. Each week we review our student observations, discuss the students with team members, pick out learning objectives for each of our student groups, and plan out our teacher-directed learning engagements for the next week. This planning is all done within the context of the wider curriculum, theme/units, and scope and sequence/standards. This is considered effective teaching practice and we know that it works. However, I often wonder if we are missing out on golden opportunities to be more child-centered in the Early Years.

I suggest adding-in another teacher action to play time and the best way that I can think to describe it is, “outcome infused play.” In the paragraph above, I described how student interactions with teachers are usually structured during play-time (teachers completing observations or running teacher-directed centers). Here is the issue I have with this play-time set-up…in the eyes of our students…we the teachers are either passive observers or completely in charge of the interaction. Its difficult to develop meaningful, supportive, relationships with our students if we are always silent observers or completely directive. By engaging in outcome infused play I can develop relationships with my students and continue to facilitate learning without loosing out on any teaching time!

Ill explain the process via bullet points…

1. As with everything, it all starts with planning and knowing where each of my students “are.” Every week I observe the children, note what they know and can do, and plan out short and long term goals and next steps for every subject/and developmental area (using the scope and sequence/standards/and any other school metric).

2. Memorize it! To be effective I need to know every students’ goals and the little steps necessary to achieve them.

3. When scheduling the week, during play-time, I set aside time every day to engage in outcome infused play.

4. During play-time, I observe children quietly and calmly before acting. Basically I am a fly on the wall and as small and unassuming as possible. While watching children, I consider how I can join the play as a participant, not a leader. Its important to “honor the child`s play and the child`s intentions in their play.” While observing, I think about how I could join the play and “infuse” a goal for that child without

disrupting or changing their play. This is not an easy ask!

5. Join in! I calmly join the play as a participant and follow the child while infusing the goal into the play. Sometimes this process is quick, sometimes longer. After engaging with the child and infusing the goal I begin to look for an exit that wont disrupt the play.

6. Leave the play without disrupting or ending it and take my observational notes. My observational notes of outcome infused play includes the students involved, goal addressed, how the students responded to the goal, and a quick note about the play itself.

Questions to Consider...

We know the value of play! Do Primary/Elementary aged children get enough time, or any time, for child-directed play? Could this strategy be used in lower Elementary as a way to integrate more child-directed play into the school day, without loosing out on teaching time?

What are the challenges of this teacher strategy? One is definitely experience...a teacher must be knowledgeable about the age and stage they are teaching to be effective in this strategy. Another could be flexibility...for this strategy to work, teachers need to take a step back and give so much control and agency to their students. Teachers need to be flexible in their interactions with students and think on their toes to integrate an appropriate targeted learning goal in the moment.

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