Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 10, 223-247 (19953 Play is Nof foe Wof~ of fhe Child: Young C~il~fe~‘s Perceptions of Wof~ and Play Lisa A. Wing Syracuse University Using qualitative methods of participant observation and in-depth interviewing, this research explored kindergarten and first and second grade children’s perceptions of classroom activities. Young children perceived classroom activities in terms of what they considered to be work and what they considered to be play. Children identified many messages they received from the classroom context, their peers, and their teachers that contributed to their distinctions. Distinguishing elements included the obligatory nature of activities, the cognitive and physical effort required, the involvement and evaluation of the teacher, and the fun children experienced while engaged in activities. Children saw some activities as “in-between” work and play. A work-play continuum is presented that incorporates children’s characterizations. The activities in which children engage during their first days, weeks, and months in their classrooms contribute to the foundations of their ideas about school. Many researchers have argued that long-term ideas about school and learning are shaped by experiences in the early years of schooling (Anderson, 1981; Jackson, 1968; Katz, 1985, 1986, 1988a, 1988b; Katz & Chard, 1989; Pramling, 1983, 1986, 1988). During the past two decades, researchers have paid increasing attention to student perceptions of schooling as a means of evaluating educational efforts (Klein, Kantor, & Fernie, 1988; Levine & Wang, 1983; Silberman, 1971; Weinstein, 1983; Wittrock, 1986). Investigations have provided deeper insight into what it is like to be a student. According to Duke (1977), “student’s perceptions of what occurs to and around them in school are valuable information for practitioners and researchers” (p. 262). I thank Margaret Lay-Dopyera for her thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this article. Correspondence and requests for reprints should be sent to Lisa A. Wing, 73 Sagamore Drive, Rochester, NY 14617. 223 224 Wing The purpose of this study was to explore young children’s perceptions of classroom activities. Children’s daily classroom activities occupy most of the time children spend in school. It it through classroom activities that teachers attempt to reach educational objectives, and it is classroom activities and routines that send messages to children about what school is all about. Understanding children’s perceptions of classroom activities informs us of the effects of educational efforts made on their behalf (Weinstein, 1983; Winne & Marx, 1982). The data from this study indicate that young children negotiate meaning from the events, situations, and interactions in their classrooms, and in doing so they form a framework around which they understand what they do in school. Jerry, a kindergarten student, demonstrated his conceptual organization of activities into two distinct categories: Interviewer (Int): So, what do you do in kindergarten? Jerry: Well, we work. And we play! Jerry naturally thought about classroom activities in terms of those that were work and those that were play. In his view, the categories work and play encompassed what he did in school. For the children in this study, issues of work and play were central to how they made meaning from classroom pursuits. The themes work and pfay emerged clearly from the onset of this research, and it was apparent that children used the constructs of work and play to order classroom activities. This finding stimulated a series of additional questions. How do children make these distinctions? Do they have consistent or shared criteria for interpreting some activities as work and some as play? What messages do children receive from adults, peers, and other aspects of the classroom context that contribute to their ideas? Are children aware of these messages, and can they articulate them? RELATED LITERATURE Few researchers have examined children’s perspectives on work and play in the context of the primary school classroom. In three related studies, King (1976, 1979, 1982, 1986) observed in classrooms and engaged children from kindergarten through fifth grade in an interview regarding their definitions of work and play in school. She found that children’s criteria for labeling activities as work or play changed through the elementary grades. Elements of the social context, such as teacher direction and supervision, played a larger role in children’s categories at younger ages and elements of the psychological context, such as pleasure, played a larger role at older ages. Fein (1985) engaged kindergartners through third graders in a structured interview to learn features and instances children used when describing work Play is Not the Work of the Child 225 and play. She found that children distinguished between work and play in terms of the locus of the decision to engage in the activity, the affective aspects, and the goal orientation. Garza, Briley, and Reifel (1985) interviewed preschool children about their daily day care center activities. They found that children spontaneously used the category play to refer to some activities, such as pretend with materials, nonpretend manipulation of materials, sociodramatic play, and organized games. This study involved more extensive time and involvement with children in their classrooms, revealing a richer and a deeper understanding of how children construct the meanings of work and play. The language children use while engaged in activities and while describing them gives us insight into their perceptions (Fivush, 1984; Reifel, 1986; 1988). Reifel explained, One route for getting to this meaning is conducting sociolinguistic analyses related to the classroom context. In other words, we need to find out how children use language to describe the classroom context. They can, theoretically, directly provide information on the meanings they are experiencing in their daily environment. (1986, p. 4) The language children use to describe their experiences helps researchers understand how children mentally organize and represent those experiences. This study will draw on the language children used during interviews combined with observations and teacher interviews. METHOD Sites This study took place in a kindergarten and a first/second grade classroom in a small suburban primary school. After consulting with the supervisors of curriculum and instruction in several districts, two classrooms were chosen because they most de-emphasized direct instruction methods. The research explored children’s views of work and play in classroom environments in which, from the adult’s perspective, the lines between work and play were regularly blurred. Mrs. Kip, the kindergarten teacher, and Mrs. Samuels, the first/second grade teacher, emphasized a child-centered, integrated, hands-on approach. Mrs. Kip and Mrs. Samuels described their programs and beliefs: Mrs. Kip: Everything we do is hands-on math, hands-on puzzles. . .as we’re doing all these things, they are learning their letters and sounds. But that’s not the emphasis. . . I am doing what they call the holistic approach. . Nothing is taught by itself, everything is integrated. . . I just put out materials and they’re doing whatever they wish them. . . 226 Wing Sometimes it’s free exploration, and sometimes it’s a task that tbey do. . . It looks like they’re piaying. _ . Mrs. Samuels: it’s a hands-on experience. . . they’re making some observations and doing some discovery work. . .Comprehension is high on the list of skills that we work with. . . we’re trying to develop their logical thinking skills . . . . We integrate [social studies and science] so that what [the] child is learning to do in reading and writing makes sense, it’s about a subject.. . .I think it’s real important for them to explore and to experiment. . . Mrs. Kip and Mrs. Samuels expressed their beliefs that learning is a process of playful exploration and discovery. They designed learning environments and programs that incorporated basic skills into activities they thought would be meaningful, challenging, and enjoyable for children. They used manipulative materials extensively and acted as facilitators and resources in stimulating children’s experimentation, problem-solving, reasoning, and social collaboration. The classrooms were arranged into learning centers. A small part of each day was spent in teacher-directed whole group lessons. Children spent the greater part of each day engaged in small group or self-directed activities. Children often took part in determining their learning activities, and pursued many of those activities in cooperation with others. Data Collection The research employed qualitative methods of participant observation and in-depth interviewing in the tradition of symbolic interactionism (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992). Qualitative research techniques afford rich data through which it is possible to discover the meanings of events and situations as the participants, in this case young children, see them. This method stresses the importance of the children’s understanding and interpretation of their activities, and explores the conceptual model children use to organize their experiences. The researcher observed and participated in classroom activities during one school year. During that time, 14 children from each classroom were engaged in multiple in-depth interviews. The children were told that the researcher was writing a book about what children think about school and what they do in kindergarten and first/second grade. The researcher selected children to interview who had received parental permission and who represented a range of academic levels. The first interview with each child was open-ended and explored children’s perspectives on school in general. Later, each child was observed during a classroom activity. Immediately following the activity, the observed child was engaged in a semistructured interview. The interview probed children’s intentions and perceptions of the functions of the activity. Children were asked to elaborate on how they characterized or differentiated between dif- Play is Not the Work of the Child 227 ferent types of activities, and how they viewed that activity in connection with other experiences. The interviews were open-ended in that the children’s responses guided the directions of questions. Each child participated in two semistructured interviews. A few children participated in a fourth interview intended to follow up on questions that arose during data analysis or during participant observation. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Teachers were interviewed twice formally. Each teacher described her daily schedule and discussed the types of activities she provided and the purposes or objectives for those activities. Each teacher commented on the role of play in her classrooms and in children’s learning, and described what she meant by play. Teachers also explained the rationale behind their room arrangements, materials selection, decision-making, and assessment procedures. Teacher interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Data Analysis Data were analyzed in a constant comparative method, described by Bogdan and Biklen (1992) and Glaser and Strauss (1967). Data analysis was ongoing throughout data collection, with initial analysis shaping further data collection. Interview transcripts and participant observation fieldnotes were coded, sorted, and analyzed for emerging themes and patterns. An intensive period of analysis at the end of data collection involved searching for relationships among patterns in order to come to a deeper understanding of the perceptions of the children in the context of their classrooms. RESULTS The terms work and play surfaced repeatedly as children talked about classroom pursuits. In contrast to the early childhood maxim “play is the work of the child,” in children’s minds, play is not work. As they spoke about the activities in which they engaged in their classrooms, they used these categories to describe different types of endeavors. The categories represented different experiences for children, in spite of the fact that their teachers consciously attempted to make work play-like by incorporating hands-on materials, giving children choices, and encouraging exploration and discovery. In interviews, the children elaborated on their ideas about what they considered to be work or play. Children’s explanations provided convincing evidence that they were aware of the role adults and social contexts played in their experiences at school. Children employed fairly consistent criteria in thinking about what constituted work and what constituted play. These criteria can be gleaned from what children explained in interviews and from what was seen and heard during classroom observations. 228 Wing “Have to” Work, “Can” Pluy The largest single element that seemed to determine if children considered activities to be work or play is whether the activity was obligatory or not. Children used the compulsory nature of activities as a central part of their definition of work, and the freely chosen and self-directed nature of activities as a central part of their definition of play. Gemma’s response highlights the oppositional nature of compulsory work and of voluntary play: Gemma: Because playing is not the same as working. Int: In what way? Gemma: Because you write and work, and sometimes you have to do stuff and work. And playing is you just do whatever you want. Gemma emphasized that play was different from work. She associated work with writing and with things “you have to do,” whereas play was when “you just do whatever you want.” Children generally reserved the term work for externally controlled activities and pfay referred to activities that were subject primarily to internal control. Elena pointed out the role of teacher directions in her thinking about work and play: Elena: Like, working is like when she’s telling you what to do. And when we’re playing we just do anything. We don’t go by her rules, like if we started to do something and we didn’t want to do it anymore, we could just put it away and do something else. Elena presented the teacher’s role in work when she described the teacher “telling you what to do.” It seemed that she was referring to the rules of work, such as completing tasks, and the ability to choose and to switch activities in play. Elena also implied that her intentions were central to play activities, whereas Mrs. Samuels’ intentions were central to work activities. In this study, children’s language gave insight into their perceptions of the sources of control over their activities. In interviews and in activities, the phrases have fo and can surfaced repeatedly. These phrases were such a natural part of the flow of language that they would have been easy to overlook. However, on closer inspection a pattern was apparent. Children naturally used the phrase have to in connection with the activities they considered to be work: Kirk: We have to do G’s. . . . Like trace them. There’s dots there and we trace. . . . Today’s G day, still G week, so we have to do G’s. . . . ‘Cause we have to do when it’s our G day, we have to. Have to flowed naturally as children talked about writing, spelling, math stations, projects, calendar (the morning routine), reading, and other re- Play is Not the Work of the Child 229 quired activities. In contrast, children spontaneously used can, interchangeably with get to, when they talked about activities they considered to be play. Carly contrasted the can (get to) play in the sand with the have to work in the sand: Carly: . . . when there are new materials, you get to play with them and do whatever you want. And just get used to it. Like when the sand was here we could do whatever we wanted with it. Int: Is it still playing? Carly: Urn, no. Now it’s estimating. It’s like playing only you have to do what the teacher says. For Carly, using the sand shifted from can play to have to work when the teacher’s directions or expectations became central to the activity. Children recognized and could articulate the contextual nature of work and play. They were aware that shifting the social context from voluntary to compulsory changed their characterizations of activities from play to work. Children used can and get to when they talked about painting, the housekeeping area (referred to by Mrs. Kip as dramatic play), blocks, sand, and construction materials (except for math activities), handling class pets, board and computer games, and recess. These were the same activities children consistently referred to as play. To the extent that children were required to do activities, or to the extent that children were constrained in the way they used materials like blocks, crayons, sand, and connecting cubes, children saw those activities as worklike. Children were quite clear about the fact that activities that they could choose to do and could take in any direction they pleased were play. Were children’s ideas about work and play, and their uses of phrases such as can and have to simply reflective of adult language? Teachers occasionally used the words work, play, have to, and can. However, a close examination of children’s ideas revealed that they did not simply mirror those of adults, in fact at times their ideas were quite contradictory. Children constructed their own understandings of classroom activities, and the categorical language of adults provided only one source of information. Children also employed other elements in their characterizations of activities as work and play. Teacher Expectations and Involvement Analysis of participant observation field notes indicated that there was a pattern in children’s construction of activities as work or as play and the expectations and involvement of the teacher during activities. Recall that children identified painting, the housekeeping area, blocks, sand, and construction materials (except for math activities), handling class pets, board and computer games, and recess as play. In analyzing these activities, it was apparent that teachers were rarely involved with children 230 Wing during them. In the kindergarten, Mrs. Kip generally supervised one of the projects (which children called work) during learning centers time. She only occasionally peeked into areas where children engaged in what they called play to check on children’s safety or to announce clean-up time. In the first/ second grade, Mrs. Samuels typically attended to things like bulletin boards and materials preparation during children’s community time, which was the first 30 to 45 min of each day and was a time during which activities occurred that children consistently referred to as play. Teachers’ involvement was quite different in activities that children called work, which were writing, spelling, math stations, projects, calendar routine, reading, and other required activities. Participant observation field notes revealed that teachers generally remained in close proximity to children during work activities. They either led children through the activity or circulated among children, assisting or supervising them: Mrs. Kip: [giving directions about a poster-making activity in which the children were to draw themselves reading a book] Start with yourself first. Draw a picture of yourself, then figure out where you want to be… . And make sure you get a book in there too, okay?. . You can put a book in your hand or on the floor, if you’re outside. Okay? Great! Keep going! Mrs. Samuels: [explaining a cloze writing activity] I would like you to find, and think about what word is missing. And you will need to write it in, on the line, and when you’re finished writing it on the line, re-read to make sure whether or not it makes sense. . . . If it’s a word that you can read, I will expect you to use your dictionary to look up the word for an adult spelling. If it’s a word you don’t know to read, then you have permjssion to sound it out. Analysis of data from classroom observations indicated that when directions were given by teachers, they were usually in relation to activities that children considered work. Teachers often communicated expectations to children by showing them a model or by giving them step-by-step instructions for projects or tasks. “I want you to,” “for me,” and “I will expect you to” appeared frequently in teachers’ interactions around work activities. Although children did not clearly state that teacher involvement signalled work, they demonstrated their awareness that activities they considered to be work were designed and directed by teachers, and that teachers had expectations about the products that would result from children’s efforts. In addition, the language children used gave insight into their perceptions of the “ownership” of classroom activities. They regularly viewed work activities as centering around intentions belonging to the teachers, not the children. Children often did not talk in terms of what they wanted to learn or accomplish; they spoke of what their teachers desired. Interview and participant observation data indicated that children’s intentions more often Play is Not the Work of the Child 231 entered into their play activities. They described play in terms of what they wanted to accomplish, and indicated that they engaged in the activity because they wanted to, not to fulfill someone else’s goals. Kirk: I have to do a ghost book. . . . We have to make it like a certain way. ‘Cause there has to be a yellow broom, and a red apple. . . . Elena: Int: Elena: Int: Elena: Int: [contrasting using blocks during recess and using blocks during math time] We, instead of recess, we do urn, math sometimes, and it’s different because in math we have to do something that we not-that we’re not playing with, that we’re building with. . . . And we try to put the towers as high as we can and then if they fall we have to put them up together again, so we can’t just make all these little buildings, we have to just do what Mrs. Samuels tells us todo… Now, why do you have to do the towers in math but in the recess part you can do anything? Because math is usually when we’re working and not playing. What’s the difference? Because, when we’re working it’s more like regular school like math and stuff, but when we’re playing it’s different because you can do whatever thing you want. . . . That’s interesting. What did you mean when you said it’s more like regular school? Elena: I mean like when she tells us what to do. Kirk demonstrated his awareness of Mrs. Kip’s expectation that the children would complete the ghost book “a certain way.” Elena expressed her awareness that the constraints of teacher direction entered into the distinction she made between work and play. It appeared that children used teacher directions and interactions as signals that some activities were work. Phrases such as “a certain way, ” “we have to just do what Mrs. Samuels tells us to do” and “you can do whatever thing you want” may also indicate the child’s awareness of whose intentions were central to the activity. Participation observation data indicated that in activities children considered to be play there was no specific product that was the logical outcome of the activity. It seemed that the process of using the materials was more central to such activities than any product that resulted. Children were not expected to make anything in particular; if children chose to make something, products were left to the sole discretion of the children with no expressed expectations by the teacher. Rita seemed to make a similar distinction: Rita: Int: Rita: I like to draw ‘cause urn if it’s homework, if you mess up, you may have to erase it, but if you’re drawing, you don’t have to erase it. What do you mean about homework? Urn homework, you mess up sometimes and in pictures, you don’t mess up if you make a design but, if you mess up, then you can just-then it can just be part of the picture if you make a design. . . 232 Wing Int: Do you ever have to do drawing for homework? Rita: Urn yeah sometimes. Int: What about if you mess up on that? Rita: Well, you usually draw it in pencil first and then, if you mess up, you can just erase it. Rita contrasted the drawing during community time, when “messing up” could be incorporated into the child’s plan at the child’s discretion, with homework, when “messing up” would not meet teacher expectations and thus required correction. This may be another example of a child demonstrating her awareness of whose intentions were central to the activity. In participant observation data, patterns were also apparent in teachers’ evaluative behaviors. Teachers did not outwardly evaluate children’s play behaviors and they rarely made evaluative comments to children during play activities. Likewise, children rarely sought adult approval when they were engaged in play activities. A different pattern was apparent during activities children considered to be work. Teachers regularly made evaluative comments while children were engaged in work activities: Mrs. Kip: [to Bruce, talking about his Twelve Days of Christmas book project] Oh, boy, that’s gonna be a nice gift for somebody!. . . Beautiful, Bruce!. . . Wow, look at that detail! Mrs. Samuels: [to Cameron while he was using two colors of connecting cubes to make combinations that add up to 51 You’re good at exploring and investigating. Mrs. Kip evaluated the amount of detail in Bruce’s coloring, and Mrs. Samuels evaluated Cameron’s ability to think of many combinations of connecting cubes. Teachers also evaluated the end products after children completed them. Children were far more likely to seek approval for work activities: Holly: [at the art table making an Indian headdress, to the kindergarten paraprofessional] What do you think of my Indian?! What do you think of my Indian?! What do you think?! Holly requested that an adult give general feedback about her art project. In a subsequent interview, Holly described the art project as work. Children demonstrated their awareness of an evaluative element during interviews: Elena: Writing is pretty hard because you gotta think of what you’re doing, and be sure when you’re finished that you know what you want to do and that everything’s perfect on your paper. Play is Not the Work of the Child 233 Elena suggested that writing was hard because of the expectation that children would think about their writing and proofread for errors. Children indicated that they were often aware of the critique that would be forthcoming about their school work. The impending evaluation may have contributed to children’s views about activities and their expectations for their own performance. Children did not seem to see their play as something that warranted praise or critique. F&t&h versus Quit Data from interviews and observations revealed that children recognized that there were expectations for bringing some activities to completion whereas others could be abandoned at will. Children used this distinction in their constructions of work and play. Children articulated and demonstrated in many ways that the need to finish an activity contributed to its characterization as work: Jaclyn: Int: Mary: We cannot quit. That’s the thing about this room. No quitting in writing. Or reading. . . . [asking about the Twelve Days of Christmas book project] Are those important things to do in school? Yes…. Because if you don’t get them done before Christmas, then you’ll have to finish it after Christmas. Jaclyn stated emphatic~ly that reading and writing activities required finishing. She also clearly identified these activities as work. Mary expressed her belief that it was necessary to finish a Christmas project, even if it meant that the project would continue after the holiday. The data indicate that children recognized that the authority of teacher directions compelled them to continue working until they were told they could stop. In contrast, children readily expressed their understanding that play could be abandoned at will: Ava: At community time, if you Iike want to play in the sand and then you don’t feel like it anymore, then you could just quit and go somewhere else! Ava reported that children could shift play activities upon their own initiative. She recognized that play activities were unique in this regard. Several kindergarten children said that work was something that must be done first, play later. They discussed play in some centers as what they could do when they were finished with their work: Lilli: Oh, but when you get done with your work, you can play. . . . because you have to do your work first, then play. . . . [The housekeeping center is playing] because I already did my work! 234 Wing Mickey: You have to color, then you can play. That’s what Mrs. Kip likes. To Lilli, it was obvious that because she had already finished her work, the housekeeping center was considered playing. Mickey pointed out that Mrs. Kip had a preference for children working first and playing later. Data from observations revealed that teachers communicated expectations to children about completing activities in several ways. They asked children if they had finished something, or told the class that they were out of time and would be able to finish something the next day. Mrs. Kip often queried children about whether or not they had been to particular centers to make projects, but she did not ask children if they had been to the housekeeping area, the block corner, or the easel, or if they had played a game or used the computer. In other words, Mrs. Kip checked to see that work was done, but did not check to see that play was done. Mrs. Samuels also sent messages to children about the importance of finishing work activities. She occasionally withheld recess if children did not finish their work due to inappropriate behavior. She sometimes gave children a working snack break in order to finish a piece of writing or a reading assignment. Occasionally work left over from the previous afternoon supplanted morning community time. Participant observation data revealed that there were no such consequences for not finishing a play activity. Play was something that was cut short if it was engaged in inappropriately during community time, whereas work was something that was extended if children engaged in it inappropriately. Cognitive and Physical Activity Children’s views of school activities, and their distinctions between work and play were often related to their perceptions of the physical or cognitive demands of activities. Whether activities required concentration or involved physical movement frequently entered into children’s explanations of them as work or play. Children sometimes compared activities on the basis of cognitive activity: Ted: [discussing a math activity in which children estimated then verified the volume of sand various containers would hold] That’s not part of playing. . . that’s usually part of working ‘cause you have to use your mind. When you’re not using your mind is when you’re playing. . . . It’s a big, big difference. You really, really try to concentrate really hard when you’re working, but not when you’re playing. Ted contended that play activities did not involve thinking, concentrating, studying, or “using your mind.” He contrasted play with work, which he believed did involve cognitive effort. Data from interviews revealed that Play is Not the Work of the Child 235 children recognized the cognitive strain of work activities, but saw play activities as involving minimal cognitive effort. Children’s planning, decision-making, and problem-solving were evident in observations of play activities. Elaborate schemes in sand and block play and intense concentration in self-selected drawing activities were apparent, However, children seemed unaware of any cognitive demand. Effort was sometimes an issue in whether children characterized an activity as work or play. The necessity of effort and neatness in school contributed to the context in which children decided that activities were work. Stacy referred to effort as the difference between play coloring and work coloring: Stacy: Int: Stacy: Int: Stacy: Lilli: Well, coloring isn’t reahy playing. It’s really working. Is it always working? Sometimes it’s not and sometimes it is. When it’s not working, it’s just to make pictures. When it’s not working, it’s called playing. And when it is working, what is it? It’s something to take your time on and just do your best and something. . . . The difference of it, when you take your time, and you do your best it’s called working, and when you just try to, do it a little fast and a little taking time it’s called playing. . . . [talking about a cutting project] I hate when I work. You have to cut out a lot and it’s hard to get on those turns. Whereas Stacy implied effort through phrases like “take your time” and “‘do your best,” many children suggested effort by referring to tasks as “hard.” Children’s comments indicated that they judged activities on the basis of whether they were easy or hard. These judgments seemed to be related to whether they characterized activities as work or as play and whether they liked or disliked activities. The ~rst/second graders mentioned cognitive activity more frequently than the kindergartners when describing classroom activities. The kindergartners were more likely to focus on the physical nature of tasks. This may be a reflection of the fact that the kindergarten program involved more making and playing and did not emphasize problem solving and comprehension. It may also be a reflection of the fact that kindergarten children’s facility with metacognition was at its earliest stages (Pramling, 1983). The first/second graders often referred to needing quiet or concentration during activities they called work. Ted: If we were playing we would be doing it as fast as we can, and we wouldn’t be so quiet . . . . Like you concentrate on thinking, concentrate on the paper you’re working with, concentrate with anything you’re trying to do-work. So that’s why we have silence at work time, and we don’t have to have silence at play time. It’s a very big difference. 236 Wing Many children associated quiet and concentration with work. Differences in the noise level in the room, however, were difficult to perceive during classroom observations. Children conversed almost continually in the first/second grade, and were usually quiet only when Mrs. Samuels was speaking to the whole class. However, children took note of a few classroom practices that made an impression on their views of activities. Mrs. Samuels requested lowered voices more often during work activities, and occasionally she set a timer for 10 min of “silent thought time” at the start of writing workshop. Children commented on the physical nature of activities as well, often bringing physical movement or physical contexts into their explanations of work and play. Cameron: When you’re playing like sometimes you are sweating and when you’re doing math it’s like working. . . When you’re playing you like run around, and when it’s-when you work, you just walk around. . . . Mary: If you’re playing, then you’re not really doing anything sitting down. . And if you’re working, you have to sit down and do it. Sweating, running around, and “not doing anything sitting down” were physical aspects of play that these children used to distinguish play activities from work activities. Other children mentioned sitting, listening, using paper and pencil, and being at tables as aspects of activities that contributed to their being work-like. Freedom of physical movement in the room, smiling, and manipulating toys made activities play-like for children. Children expressed these distinctions in their explanations of work and play. Fun Children often mentioned fun when talking about classroom activities. For the most part children saw all activities as fun to some extent. Some children expressed that there were degrees of fun, play being all the way fun and work being somewhat fun. Int: I wonder why you don’t think [making a ghost book] is playing? Kirk: ‘Cause playing is like a lot more funner. . . . Jaclyn: Playtime is funner than worktime. Kirk and Jaclyn compared working with playing, and stated that play involved a greater degree of fun. Many children said that although they considered an activity to be work, fun was not precluded: Carly: And math isn’t really play time, it’s when you do work, but it’s very fun! Play is Not the Work of the Child 237 Working was sometimes fun, but not always: Elena: [talking about writing] That’s working. . .It can be fun, but not always fun. Children consistently associated pleasure with play, and usually expressed pleasure in work as well. Fun, or liking or disliking activities did not seem to contribute to the children’s ideas about work and play any more than other elements. A Work-Play Continuum An interesting pattern emerged after interviewing children a second and third time. Some children, particularly the first/second graders, began characterizing activities as “in between” working and playing or “a little bit” working or playing. Other children used phrases such as “play working, ” “working-pla~ng,‘~ “pure playing,” “pure working,” and “playing and working all smushed together.” Probing of their ideas led to the finding that children do not see all activities on opposite poles of work or play. Instead, some elements of activities led children to view them as working and playing at the same time to some extent. Most children referred to these activities as work, but some added that they were a little like playing at the same time. Children identified elements of the activities that made them more play-like and elements that made them more work-like. The element of fun was sometimes a characteristic that made working activities play-like for children. The difficulty of activities contributed to them being work-like: Int: [asking about the structures-buiiding activity in which children built houses with toothpicks and clay. Earlier in the interview Jaclyn had said the structures activity was “part of schoolwork.“] Remember the last time we were talking, you said some of the things you do are working and some things are playing?. . . Was this one of those things? Jaclyn: Remember I told you half and half?. . . This is one of them. Int: Why? Jaclyn: Well, it’s not working because you’re still having a little bit of fun doing it… .But you still, you know, down there doing something fun. It’s half working but it’s sort of fun! So, it’s half working and half playing. . . , ‘Cause some stuff is only fun and some stuff is a little bit harder than fun, but it’s still fun so I put it as a working-playing thing. Combining reading and writing or both, with an otherwise manipulative activity contributed to the activity being work-like for children: Blair: [after saying that sand estimating was working] Well, it’s not like working, it’s kind of both! It’s fun and like a little hard. . . . 238 Wing hit: What’s the difference there? Blair: Like urn, when you’re filling [the containers] up and stuff, that’s like kind of playing. And you gotta find the right [“more than” or “less than”] card, and read it. That’s kind of working. . . . Int: How did you know it wasn’t all the way playing? Blair: Because we were reading. . . that’s not playing. Blair explained that the addition of reading to the sand activity contributed to his characterization of the activity as work. Observations revealed that another play-like element was that all of these activities made use of manipulative materials to some degree. These activities were less prescribed by the teacher than other activities. Children could often decide for themselves when they were finished, although arriving at a finishing point was still important. Emily: [talking about a patterning activity in which children wrote each letter of their name in one square of a grid and then colored all the e’s one color, all the m’s another color, and so on. The activity was one of the math stations] It was sort of working. And playing. Int: Why? Emily: Because when you were playing you were drawing like. That was playing. And you were working ‘cause you had to get it done. For Emily, the fact that Mrs. Samuels expected her to complete the activity made it work. She considered the coloring to be play-like, but the expectation of finishing the activity, as opposed to being able to abandon it at will, made it a work activity. The children generally had to do the manipulative activities, but were sometimes able to choose when and for how long. The teacher still evaluated the outcomes. Writing was the ultimate work activity for the children in kindergarten and first/second grade. Gemma: Playing, that you get to play with stuff, and working is you should write stuff, not playing with toys. For Gemma, writing was synonymous with working. Gemma referred to writing as a task that “should” be done, whereas playing is an activity children “get to” do. As children discussed writing activities, it seemed that for many children, writing meant the mechanical act of forming the letters and the effort of getting words spelled correctly. Some children did talk about writing in terms of composing, but spelling and letter formation seemed to loom largest in their minds. All of the children talked about writing being work, and it appeared that writing was all the way on the work end of the continuum: Play is Not the Work of the Child 239 Jaclyn: Writing, writing! I used to hate writing ‘cause it was working. I love writing even though it’s working. And there’s no playing to it, but I love it. Participant observation data indicated that writing in these classrooms had many of the features of “working-playing.” Children usually could decide what to write, how long to make their piece of writing, and when to choose a new topic. They usually spent as much time drawing as they did writing during writing time. However, the children did not consider writing to be playing unless they chose to write or to draw something during a play time or at home. The fact that children were required to produce a product during writing time seemed important to children. They also expressed concern over neatness and spelling when they were doing writing work. Although reading activities did not require a specific product as an outcome, children saw reading activities as work: Jaclyn: . . .we were reading. We can’t play when we’re reading. Int: Why? Jaclyn: Because we’re too busy reading! Regardless of whether children were in reading group, sprawled on the floor looking at magazines, walking around the room with pointers while reading printed materials posted on walls and bulletin boards, completing readingrelated writing tasks, or sitting in rocking chairs reading books, children generally saw reading as work. It was a have-to activity that was done in a prescribed way, required a great deal of cognitive effort, and was often done alone. The elements of the work-play continuum that children perceived are delineated in Figure 1. Researchers and theorists have proposed a work-play continuum. Cohen (1953) stated that in human activity, all of the criteria associated with play are present to some extent. He proposed that activities be considered “to have that degree of play-work character according to the place to which it is assigned on a composite play-work continuum” (p. 319). Neumann (1971) and Bergen (1988) have also described a play-work continuum. The present research indicates that many children recognize a work-play continuum as well, although children’s ideas of a continuum are not entirely congruent with those proposed by adults. Neumann’s (1971) criteria for play were internal control, internal reality, and internal motivation. Criteria for work for external control, external reality, and external movitation. Neumann concluded that activities are rarely located at either extreme, and generally fall somewhere in between. In children’s views, activities toward the center of the continuum were often controlled and externally motivated; children participated in those activities 240 PLAY Wing ~. WORK NATURE OF THE ACTlVITY free exploration of materials generally involves manipulatives or other objects does not require quiet process-oriented does not require finishing children’s intentions central usually physically active little mental concentration or cognitive activity evident to the child can interact freely with peers activities that are teacherdesigned but allow for some discovery or creativity self-selected activities that require concentration or attention to detail games with rules and academic content CHILD INVOLVEMENT teachers’ intentions usuaby central but more choices available to the child can usually interact freely with peers usually fun teacher-directed and designed activities product-oriented usually involving pencil and paper sometimes requires quiet projects (in kindergarten) must be finished mental concentration and cognitive activity evident to the child can sometimes interact with peers usually physically inactive sometimes fun always fun few teacher expectations rarely evaluated by the teacher TEACHER INVOLVEMENT generafly some teacher teachers’ expectations and evaluation intentions central outcomes evaluated by the teacher Figure 1. Children’s Perceived Work-Play Continuum because they had to. The degree of pleasure, the manipulative nature of the materials, or the addition of reading and writing to an activity were stronger cues that an activity was “in between” working and playing. Just as children’s ideas were not necessarily consistent with those of researchers and theorists, they were not aIways congruent with those of their teachers either: Mrs. Samuels: Play to me is messing around, so they’re messing around all day. They’re messing around with stories that they read, they’re messing around with the letters of the alphabet,. . .Ietter sounds,. . .and words and language as they’re writing. At math, they’re getting in Play is Not the Work of the Child 241 there and playing with the manipulatives if you will, just messing around trying to see what all this means to their life, trying to bring some sense to what it is they’re experiencing. Mrs. Samuels considered play to be synonymous with “messing around,” which she associated with the exploration, experimentation, and discovery that took place throughout most classroom activities. She talked about “playing” with letters of the alphabet, letter sounds, words, language, and math manipulatives. Children did not equate “messing around” with the activities they considered to be work. They made definite distinctions between play activities and work activities. Even activities that children identified as being toward the center of a work-play continuum were play-like and worklike for clearly definable reasons. Children plainly did not view experiences with words, stories, writing, and math manipulatives to be playing. They saw those activities as work and often did not see any play elements in them. Mrs. Kip: Play is a child’s work. I mean, sometimes the kids will go home and say “All we did was play today.” Good, that’s good. If they go home and complain that all we did was work, I get nervous because it shouldn’t be work. It should be fun. . . And to me, if it is work, it means it’s too hard for you. . . It shouldn’t be work and, if it is work, then they’re being overextended. . .Again, maybe it’s work up in second and third grade when they do some of those tough geometry problems. . . Although Mrs. Kip called some activities “work,” she did not think any of the activities in her program should be work-like for children. She associated work with difficulty, and although she wanted children to be challenged, she did not want them to be frustrated. She viewed play as synonymous with fun, and thought that children would consider activities to be play if they found them enjoyable. Indeed, the children in Mrs. Kip’s class thought many of the things they did in school were work. They made a clear separation between work and play, and fun was far from the most significant element in their characterizations. Children did not necessarily think work was hard, and they often found work to be as pleasurable as play. They did not always associate work with frustration or drudgery as did their teacher. It is evident that children’s interpretation of classroom activities were not always reflective of their teacher’s beliefs. DISCUSSION AND CONCL USZONS This study showed how young children in two classrooms that de-emphasize direct instruction methods perceive classroom activities. The themes that emerged from months of participant observation and in-depth interviewing indicated that children primarily thought about classroom pursuits in terms of that they considered to be work and what they considered to be play. 242 Wing Many theorists, educators, and researchers refer to play as the “child’s work.” A few such statements are: “Play is the work of childhood” (Instructor, 1989, p. 22), “Play is [children’s] major work” (Hussey, 1948, p. 157), “Play is a young child’s natural way of working” (Pitcher, 1966, p. 491), and “Play is in fact a child’s work” (Werth, 1984, p. 10). This study indicates that children are very clear about what is work and what is play. In their minds, play is not work. In interpreting classroom activities, children were quite consistent in identifying characteristics and elements they used to distinguish between work and play. Children received messages in school from their teachers, peers, and classroom contexts. These messages provided information children used in constructing their views of classroom activities as work and play. This study demonstrates that although the messages were generally subtle, children noticed and could articulate many of the elements that led to their characterizations. The elements identified in this study as entering into children’s charcterizations between work and play were the obligatory or voluntary nature of the activity; its evaluation; the child’s effort, cognitive and physical activity; the level of teacher involvement; whether the activity had to be finished or could be abandoned at will; the types of materials used; the academic content; and, to a lesser degree, fun. Both Mrs. Kip and Mrs. Samuels expressed their beliefs that they integrated work and play. Mrs. Samuels said that the children play during all school activities as they “mess around” with words, ideas, and manipulatives. Mrs. Kip said that classroom activities should be play, and that if activities were work-like then they were probably too difficult. In spite of the teachers’ beliefs and efforts, the children persisted in their clear distinctions between school activities that were work and those that were play. Jackson (1968) and King (1979) reported that children are not fooled by work activities presented by teachers under the guise of play. This finding held true in the present research as well. Data from interviews and observations revealed that when teachers imposed direction on activities, children indicated that they recognized that those activites were obligatory, that they saw that the teachers’ intentions were central to the activity, and that they were aware of teacher supervision and evaluation. Children considered those activities to be work, in spite of the teachers’ attempts to make them play-like. This study demonstrates that children are very skilled at making subtle distinctions between work and play, but that teachers are for the most part unaware of them. It is noteworthy that the children in this study, like those in King’s (1976, 1979, 1982, 1986) studies, did not necessarily equate work with drudgery and that they sometimes found work to be satisfying and pleasurable. Although children expressed preference for play and demonstrated greater initiative in incorporating their own intentions into play activities, being engaged in work is not in itself a negative thing, from the child’s perspective. Play is Not the Work of the Child 243 However, children seemed to approach activities with a “work is about what you want, play is about what I want” perspective. Children’s ideas about work and play seemed in part to reflect their ideas about ownership of those activities. Children noticed their own intentions more often in play activities, and they seemed to “own” the decision-making related to play activities. Children demonstrated that they were aware of the dominant role of the teacher in planning, directing, and evaluating work activities. Children regularly did not recognize their own intentions in work activities. Does this create for children a barrier to full involvement in work activities? This may need further examination. Certain activities such as math, writing, and reading were always considered work. It may be that teachers’ (and children’s) concerns for progress in these areas limits the possibilities for ways to engage in playing, or it may be that the extraordinary effort these pursuits require from young children precludes playful aspects from entering into them. If so, are there not ways in which reading, writing, and math as well as sand, painting, and so on can be engaged in as play? How, in kindergarten and primary grades, might some of the activities involving reading, writing, and math meet children’s criteria for play-that is, be voluntary, without evaluation (either positive or negative), without a great deal of effort (as perceived by children), with minimal teacher direction, with the possibility for physical activity, and with options for quitting? Mrs. Kip and Mrs. Sanmels might profitably invent activity options, such as games (Kamii & DeVries, 1980), that fit the play criteria and make use of children’s existent abilities in reading, writing, and math. The teachers in this study may have had mistaken perceptions of how children experience work versus play. Why might a teacher such as Mrs. Samuels equate play with “messing around” or a teacher such as Mrs. Kip want to sidestep the work emphasis in her classroom? Their ideas are perhaps not at all uncommon among those teachers who do provide classroom play opportunities. Play, spontaneous and free, is clearly revered in early childhood circles. That free play is essential is an early childhood truism. ~though early childhood teachers may routinely set a time apart for play in their programs, they often do other things during this time. Mrs. Kip and Mrs. Samuels did not play in play time. Instead, they supervised work projects or took care of tasks such as materials preparation or bulletin boards. These emphases match those reported for British preschool teachers (Bruner, 1980). Bruner reported that “a high proportion of adult-initiated interaction with children was given over to the boring stuff of petty management” (1980, p. 61). Katz (1994), citing Bruner’s finding, says this is also her impression from observations in early childhood centers across the United States. Should teachers play in play time? Will this change for children what they experience as play, in effect eliminating play and creating more work? 244 Wing Bergen’s (1988) continuum illustrates clearly how classroom activities shift from play to work as the elements of internal control, internal reality, and internal motivation are reduced. She suggests that as teachers take a more active role in play, the activity shifts from “free play” to “guided play,” “directed play,” and “work disguised as play.” However, if play time is to facilitate children’s development as described by many researchers (see e.g., Bergen, 1988; Forman & Hill, 1984; Klugman & Smifansky, 1990; LayDopyera & Dopyera, 1987; Monighan-Nourot et al., 1987) and as intended by Mrs. Kip and Mrs. Samuels, it may be necessary to incorporate a bit more teacher involvement. Because these teachers did not involve themselves in children’s play, it is unclear from this study whether children will still perceive “guided play” activities as play. It may be possible for teachers to preserve all of the elements of play, yet to facilitate children’s development by playing alongside and with them. This is an area for further investigation. The results of this study do not suggest that teachers should eliminate free play or work activities from their programs. Nor do they suggest that teachers should never attempt to make work playful. It may not be problematic that children persist in their distinction between activities as work and as play. This framework may simply be a consequence of the emphases in and organization of American earfy childhood classrooms. It may be time to honestly acknowledge to children that some activities are work rather than attempting to couch required, directed tasks in the language of play. It is, perhaps, our challenge to create programs in which children experience work activities with the same personal interest, stimulation, and ownership that they seem to experience in play. According to Bergen (1988), Rather than arbitrarily disguising this type of play, educators can discuss with children how work can sometimes be made more interesting by treating it as play and can allow the children to decide how they can do this. Since creating a challenge is something children know how to do, they can decide on playful ways to learn required tasks. (p. 173) Acknowledging that the “in-between” and work activitites are work-like for clearly definable reasons, and allowing children some input into how to make potentially dull or difficult activities more play-like may provide them with some of the ownership that was typically lacking in their perception of work activities. There are other models available. In recent years, we have learned a great deal about the practices at Reggio Emilia, Italy, which contrast markedly with ours. Katz (1994), for example, tells us that in her visits to the Reggio Emilia classrooms, she observed the frequency with which “adults’ and children’s minds meet on matters of interest to both of them” (p. 29). The provision of “totally” free play time, with little adult intervention, seems not to be as sacred to these Italians as it is to Americans. They instead devote large amounts of time to merged pIay/work activities. Play is Not the Work of the Child 245 As teachers and children are together engaged in the exploration of emergent themes and projects, we are told: “The teacher. . . sometimes works ‘inside’ the group of children and sometimes ‘just around’ them” (p. 152). “The teacher studies the children, provides occasions, intervenes at critical moments, and shares the children’s heightened emotions (emphasis mine)” (p. 152). It is perhaps in this latter area that American teachers differ most. American teachers watch children play, but seldom join their explorations during play in a way that could lead to a full sharing of emotional involvement. What would be the advantage of a changed view of play and work for American early childhood educators? What if teachers became co-players and co-investigators with children during their play and their work? Both Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s work provide the theoretical basis for greater involvement. Piaget (1973) emphasized that teachers must become immersed in children’s activity so as to present situations which pose new problems. This is in accord with Vygotsky’s view that the adult has a crucial role to serve, not as a “provider of finished knowledge” (Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991, p. 14), but as an assertive resource to children (Fowler, 1994). As expressed by Reggio Emilia’s Tizianna Fillipine (cited in Edwards, 1994), “We feel that the teacher must be involved within the child’s exploration, if the teacher wants to understand how to be the organizer and provoker of occasions” (p. 153). The subtle messages to children in such a classroom context may be quite different. Children may develop an entirely different framework for making sense of what they do in school; a framework that brings the intentions of the teacher more closely in line with the perceptions of the children. A model such as Reggio Emilia may hold promise for truly infusing work activities with the intense satisfaction and ownership children experience during their play. REFERENCES Anderson, L.M. (1981). Short-term student responses to classroom instruction. The Elementary School Journal, 82, 91-108. Bergen, D. (Ed.). (1988). Play as a medium for learning and development: A handbook of theory and practice. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 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