Teaching Peace with Elyse: Teachers at Play!

I’ve been reading a NAEYC book called From Play to Practice by Marcia L. Nell and Walter F. Drew. It connects teachers' play to children’s learning, describing the findings of the Institute for Self Active Education. They "engage teachers and parents in investigating play and developing play leadership skills through professional development workshops, play symposiums and discover retreats" (ix).

Adults participate in a program quite similar to the one I developed for children, playing together with art and recycled materials. That they include research on their findings has validated what I have learned from offering the children these materials and creating a program from my reflections and knowledge.

The book speaks of the need for adults to play: "in order to understand its value and role in the learning process. Workshops in which adults experience the play process set the stage for this understanding by creating a safe, accepting environment for hands-on activities, reflection and dialogue, and investigation of theory and process" (6).

My West Coast version of these play-shops has been facilitated with teachers at our school and others. Knowing how hard teachers work for the benefit of the children, it delights me to see the happiness on the teachers' faces and witness the fun they are having.

Accessing our joy is energizing. It helps us stay enthusiastic and engaged with our teaching. As we get ready to be with our new classes, teaching how to play safely and appropriately, let’s take time to check in with ourselves. How ready are we to welcome and be with the children? Are we engaging our own sense of playfulness? When I am able to do so, I find myself more able to be fully present for the children.

If you’d like a refresher course in playing, either with materials or with your colleagues, you might consider creating your own expressive arts play-shops.  

Guidelines for Teachers – as taken from page 7 of From Play to Practice

"The process begins with an open mind and open ended materials." (I refer to some of these inviting materials such as cardboard tubes, trim, fabric and colored masking tape in my blogs from January 8, February 7 and April 8 of 2014 and November 11, 2013.)

1. "First, engage in solitary play with the materials. Using open-ended materials taps into a basic human need to express thoughts and feelings through play. Exploring the materials allows participants’ minds to focus and inspires imagination."

2. "After the solo play period, participants journal about the experience, writing down what they thought felt or imagined…They write about the emotions experienced while playing and how these connect to their work with children. (Relate your feelings to what your children may experience, such as being asked to stop play before they are finished.)

In my workshops, I ask how they might use this understanding and empathy in relating to the children or modifying their practices. Actually sharing with the children what happened in their teacher workshops, such as how hard it was to stop, often deepens the bond with the children.

I also add the following components:

3. Break into dyads and share what you wish to disclose with a partner. You can either share from journaling or eliminate journaling and only share orally. If so, take time to write down afterwards what might prove useful in your teaching.

4. Full group sharing: bring back to full group selected reflections from your dyads, whether they are self-reflections or reflections from your partner. Again, take time afterwards to write what you might use to either communicate more effectively with the children or adapt a current teaching practice.

To quote a participant’s response when asked if she found the play-shop to be valuable, "I imagine the joy you see in so many pictures is the real proof.”

For more information on play-shops, I refer you to my website:


From Play to Practice: Connecting Teachers’ Play to Children’s Learning.

NAEYC, Washington DC. 2013