The Importance of Play: A Seminar for Bing Parents

By Colin Johnson, Teacher

In spring 2008, parents gathered at Bing Nursery School to participate in the parent seminar, “The Importance of Play.” Part of the seminar was devoted to hands-on play using classroom materials, and many parents expressed desire for more time to play. So on October 1, 2008, at the beginning of the school year, the Bing community was invited to participate in the “Play” seminar for a second time, allowing parents to experience first-hand what their children will encounter during their time at Bing.

The evening commenced with refreshments as parents and teachers filed into West room. Soon director Jennifer Winters gathered the mingling adults with the jovial sound of a ringing triangle. Head teachers Adrienne Lomangino and Kitti Pecka presented a concise overview of the importance of play in young children’s lives: theoretical foundations for Bing’s play-based philosophy, definitions of play itself and the impact of play on children’s development. The presentation was summed up by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s famed declaration that “…play is the highest level of preschool development.” Head teacher Peckie Peters affirmed this, saying “play is a really important instrument for children that needs to be supported and encouraged, and we’re seeing less and less of this over the years.”

Center and East classrooms are set up with musical instruments and open-ended materials such as blocks, clay, paint and water for the hands-on session of the parent seminar.

Center and East classrooms are set up with musical instruments and open-ended materials such as blocks, clay, paint and water for the hands-on session of the parent seminar.

Following the informational portion of the seminar, the teachers invited the parents into the other two nursery school classrooms, where they had set up various materials in the indoor and outdoor environments. The parents encountered easels set up for painting, found materials, blocks, clay, water tables and musical instruments. One parent described the classroom environment as “inspiring…open and unlimited.” Parents then participated in the kind of play that their children experience each day at school. While some spent all of their time playing music with head teachers Pecka and Beth Wise, others utilized as many materials as they could. One father tested the limits of how high he could build a tower of unit blocks; others waited patiently in line for a turn at the easels.

A group of parents experience using clay; teacher Quan Ho, second from left, is on hand to facilitate discussions.

A group of parents experience using clay; teacher Quan Ho, second from left, is on hand to facilitate discussions.

Amidst the fun, adults discussed the analogous nature of their own play to that of their children’s. Observing how separate block structures transformed into a collaborative “city,” parents were able to interpret their own children’s development from solitary to cooperative play—and to remember all of the advantages and challenges that accompany such growth.

The evening ended gradually, as parents reentered the classroom drying their hands from the water table, accompanied by applause from the music stations. Spouses and friends reunited to share their experiences. One father described his time at the clay table as “therapeutic.” A mother, when asked what she made out of clay, responded: “I just didn’t make anything,” reflecting upon the value of the process of her work rather than final product. These anecdotes remind us of children’s wonderful, vital experience with play. “It really is their work,” reports Peters, “it’s a lot of decision making.”

As parents lingered to ask final questions or to hastily finish their projects, all seemed to reflect upon the importance of play in their children’s lives. Parents reported that they enjoyed learning what goes on in the classroom and how it is important for development. They appreciated the acquisition of strategies on how to play with their children. And one noted that “even by observing play you’re engaged in it, and learn.” Some parents desired more time for indoor play, while others seemed to pine for the outdoor environment: the hills, the swings, the sand! But as they left, all had smiles on their faces, and one mother concluded: “I’m so happy that my child is coming here.”

For full-length coverage of The Importance of Play, please read the 2008 Bing Times, available at http://bingschool.stanford.edu/pub/bt2008.pdf

My cat Linus. He's vicious so you need to pet his head and not pull his tail. By Aidan R., 4 years 2 months.

My cat Linus. He's vicious so you need to pet his head and not pull his tail. By Aidan R., 4 years 2 months.