Play-based Project Design: The Organization of Time (Pedagogic Play Time Organization)

When I am starting a new consultancy in a school I often hear from the leadership team and teachers that they work with play-based teaching and learning.  Once I do observations in the classrooms and have professional development meetings with the faculty I typically find that there are sporadic moments of pretend play, but that pretend play is not the anchor for teaching and learning integrated curricular content. 

Pedagogic Play is an approach to project design in which the pretend play situation is the driver of an interdisciplinary project, and the organization of time is of central importance.  This series discusses play-based project design through the organization of space, time, resources and relationships.  This segment of the series will focus on the organization of time as key to the design of a play-based project.

A play-based project design has a typical duration of a bimester, trimester or even semester, with daily or almost daily time slots for it built into the weekly schedule.  In this segment of the series I want to talk about the different ways that these moments are constituted.  I also want to emphasize that although a play-based project design is the centerpiece of all teaching and learning within an interdisciplinary unit of study, it is not the only aspect of a daily or weekly routine.  There are many other moments in the day that have nothing to do with the play-based project, such as time for eating, playing, resting, other units of study and classes that are not part of the project.   

When considering a play-based project design and its integrated curricular contents, there are 4 different moments need to be organized in terms of time: 

1. Pre-Play: Sustained Inquiry about the Human Development Theme, Real World Activity, Awareness of Practice and Theoretical Inquiry of the Contemporary Education Framework. 

2. Pre-Play: Preparation, Organization and Planning of the scenario, props, roles and scripts.  

3. During Play: Joint Play amongst children and educators.

4. Post-Play: Reflective Dialogue and Guided Feedback that often brings the Deliberation of Theory and Practice to light of the Contemporary Education Framework.

  1. Pre-Play I: Sustained Inquiry about the Human Development Theme, Real World Activity, Awareness of Practice and Theoretical Inquiry.  Pre-Play occurs outside of the imaginary, pretend play situation.  It engages children in sustained inquiry into material and conceptual resources that equip them with important problem-solving tools to use within the imaginary, pretend play situation. Sustained inquiry is discussed in depth in another segment in this series focused on resources, but can be understood, in brief, as educators and children’s inquiry into material and conceptual resources through books, field studies, expert interviews, exploration of realia, experiments and many other methods.

  2. Pre-Play II: Preparation, Organization and Planning of the scenario, props, roles and scripts. Pre-Play occurs outside of the imaginary, pretend play situation. It is based upon the creation of the scenario and props for the imaginary, pretend play situation.  For example, if children were playing “clothing shop”, they could create workshop stations to produce items for the shop, such as belts and hair accessories made out of scraps of fabric.  By  making these props for the clothing shop they  could innovate it in terms of sustainability.  They could also have a workshop station for creating the store brand and logo, making signs, price tags, posters and other written and graphic productions for the clothing shop.  They can also make written or drawn play plans in which they think about a role they might want to play and/or problems they may wish to address in play.  In this pre-play moment, children can also think about the organization of the scenario and props in the play space, as well as the development of play plans for complex roles and problem-solving scripts for joint play (especially when the scenario needs to be taken down and put up on a daily basis due to space limitations).

  3. During Play: Joint Play amongst children and educators.  Joint play is the immersive experience of taking on roles inside of the imaginary, pretend play situation amongst children and educators.  This part of the play should typically occupy the greatest amount of time, as it is the anchor of any play-based project design.  Joint play is where scripts develop, centering on the framing of problems and the proposal of solutions that draw upon play partners’ material and conceptual resources.  In the beginning of a play-based project, joint play is often more superficial in narrative scope and problem-solving.  It is typically focused on setting up the scenario with props and enacting roles.  Educators importantly help children to move joint play to greater narrative and problem-solving complexity and support them to build and mobilize conceptual and material tools within the imaginary, pretend play situations.  An evolution of joint play should be evident from the start to the end of the play-based project in terms of how children participate, taking initiatives to frame problems and to solve them creatively, critically and collaboratively.  Educators take on roles in joint play to support children in this process, at times leading by taking initiatives, such as proposing a problem for children to solve, and at other times following children’s initiatives by suggesting ideas that build upon their initiatives.  These initiatives and responses to initiatives are called “offers” and are discussed another video in this series about relationships.  

  4. Post-Play: Reflective Dialogue and Guided Feedback that often brings the Deliberation of Theory and Practice to light.  Guided feedback/reflective dialogue is a discussion amongst children and educators departing from a central question in which all participants have the opportunity to voice their ideas, listen attentively to one another’s ideas and negotiate a shared conclusion. This central question, in which the discussion is focused, can come from educators or children.  Reflective dialogue is meant to support children to notice their actions and their implications in order to move the pretend play script forward into greater complexity and afford children the possibility to act with greater intention and purpose in play.  Based on observations of one another in play, educators and children might ask guided feedback questions, such as: 
    • How was the space/time organized for play? Why was it organized in this way
    • Who participates in this activity? How does each person's participation impact this activity? 
    • What problems came up while playing? Why do you think these problems came up? Were there any solutions proposed?
By putting play-based project design at the center of the teaching and learning process, the organization of time needs to be planned, as well as the organization of space, resources and relationships.  

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The founder and primary contributor to Education for Contemporary Times is Sarah O. Weiler, long-time educator with a M.A. in Global Education from the University of Illinois and a M.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Education at the prestigious Institute of Education at the University of London in the UK.
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