What is purposeful play?

Play is something every human understands, but a term that is hard to define. Play is a quality of intensity and joy in an activity. Play transforms the everyday into the extraordinary. Play enhances and heightens an experience, setting it into the mind and making it a part of us. This is the quality that makes play most fascinating. Play is a form of learning for children as well as adults that is built in to the structure of our DNA. At Small Faces we believe that play is the most important way children interact with their environment and create knowledge.

The staff of Small Faces is charged with facilitating, participating in, observing, documenting and reflecting on play. The presence of trained staff gives play an explicit purpose whose goal is to encourage the Social-Emotional, Physical, Creative and Cognitive development of the children in our care. As a facilitator and participant in play, staff at Small Faces design rich environments and engage in activities with children, guiding and encouraging play without controlling it. The staff of Small Faces observes, documents and reflects upon children at play to better plan and design future elements of curriculum for both individuals and groups.

Part of each day at Small Faces is dedicated to unstructured play. While the importance of structured play is easily recognized, we believe that unstructured play is essential to the development of young children. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent- Child Bonds” (Ginsburg, 2006) states: “free and unstructured play is healthy and – in fact – essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.”

How does Purposeful Play relate to the curriculum?

Small Faces’ curriculum grows and changes to reflect the current best practices in Early Childhood Education. The curriculum is refined through a system of reflection, continuing education, assessment and redefinition. The curriculum is rooted in Purposeful Play, the belief that young children will learn willingly when they are stimulated through experiences which are interesting to them and when they are able to integrate knowledge of their own world through play activities.

Building the philosophy begins with reflection on how best to educate young children, based on the personal experience, training and education of our expert staff. This process led to our philosophy’s theoretical roots in Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, and the approach to education associated with the schools of Reggio Emilia in Italy. Together these theories form a view of Early Childhood Education that is child centered, connected with family and community, observation rich and designed to help children achieve competency in age appropriate key concept areas through play, exploration and expression in a manner that encompasses all of the ways in which we express our intelligence.

The second step of the process involves continuous research and continuing education. Through teacher trainings, classes, weekly staff meetings and personal study, the staff add to and change  the curriculum to fit the needs of the current students. North Seattle Community College Professor Tom Drummond’s 15 Capabilities and components of the Creative Curriculum approach have all been recently used to further refine the Small Faces Philosophy of Purposeful Play.

The Philosophy guides our curriculum and the everyday education of the children at Small Faces. The director and staff members are engaged in constant assessment of the success of the curriculum, through informal discussions, written assessments and assessments provided by the City of Seattle and Washington State childcare. As this process continues, the curriculum at Small Faces is refined and redefined in an ongoing effort to create a quality childcare environment where young children find success and learn through purposeful play.