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A Child's Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play

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The buzz word in education today is accountability. But the federal mandate of "no child left behind" has come to mean curriculums driven by preparation for standardized tests and quantifiable learning results. Even for very young children, unstructured creative time in the classroom is waning as teachers and administrators are under growing pressures to measure school rea The buzz word in education today is accountability. But the federal mandate of "no child left behind" has come to mean curriculums driven by preparation for standardized tests and quantifiable learning results. Even for very young children, unstructured creative time in the classroom is waning as teachers and administrators are under growing pressures to measure school readiness through rote learning and increased homework. In her new book, Vivian Gussin Paley decries this rapid disappearance of creative time and makes the case for the critical role of fantasy play in the psychological, intellectual, and social development of young children. A Child's Work goes inside classrooms around the globe to explore the stunningly original language of children in their role-playing and storytelling. Drawing from their own words, Paley examines how this natural mode of learning allows children to construct meaning in their worlds, meaning that carries through into their adult lives. Proof that play is the work of children, this compelling and enchanting book will inspire and instruct teachers and parents as well as point to a fundamental misdirection in today's educational programs and strategies.


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The buzz word in education today is accountability. But the federal mandate of "no child left behind" has come to mean curriculums driven by preparation for standardized tests and quantifiable learning results. Even for very young children, unstructured creative time in the classroom is waning as teachers and administrators are under growing pressures to measure school rea The buzz word in education today is accountability. But the federal mandate of "no child left behind" has come to mean curriculums driven by preparation for standardized tests and quantifiable learning results. Even for very young children, unstructured creative time in the classroom is waning as teachers and administrators are under growing pressures to measure school readiness through rote learning and increased homework. In her new book, Vivian Gussin Paley decries this rapid disappearance of creative time and makes the case for the critical role of fantasy play in the psychological, intellectual, and social development of young children. A Child's Work goes inside classrooms around the globe to explore the stunningly original language of children in their role-playing and storytelling. Drawing from their own words, Paley examines how this natural mode of learning allows children to construct meaning in their worlds, meaning that carries through into their adult lives. Proof that play is the work of children, this compelling and enchanting book will inspire and instruct teachers and parents as well as point to a fundamental misdirection in today's educational programs and strategies.

30 review for A Child's Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play

  1. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    More from Vivian G. Paley on the meaning of children's fantasy play. She is able to tell so much about kids from what they play. She has kids dictate their stories to her, then they act them out. It has strong influence on reading, writing, thinking, philosophy and self regulation. Some favorite parts: pg 72 - I used to have a punishment chair. Then I saw that, although the body was restricted, the child's mind entered many fantasies and behavior was never improved. I decided the approach does not More from Vivian G. Paley on the meaning of children's fantasy play. She is able to tell so much about kids from what they play. She has kids dictate their stories to her, then they act them out. It has strong influence on reading, writing, thinking, philosophy and self regulation. Some favorite parts: pg 72 - I used to have a punishment chair. Then I saw that, although the body was restricted, the child's mind entered many fantasies and behavior was never improved. I decided the approach does not work. What does? Patience. And then stories of good things happening, not bad. And making the child welcome into the play of others. I watched the children and saw that all these things work. She then uses a story to help a boy see how his playing in the blocks is bothering everyone. She calls the character "Good player" and has him do the acting in the story. pg. 74 conversations with children may arise out of a "last straw" annoyance, in other words, or from a sense of dramatic flow. They can come from concerns over decorum or from respect for our imaginations. Both approaches will manage a classroom, but one seems punitive and the other brings good social discourse, communal responsibility and may have literary merit. p82 Vygotsky said that in play a child stands taller than himself, above his age and ordinary behavior. It's as if he's climbing up a ladder and looking around at a larger area. Vygotsky's image of young children standing taller, above their average behavior, as they pursue ideas in fantasy play applies as well to their teachers who listen and try to make sense of the children's play and story telling. The pre-k teachers who are curious and begin to ask about the children's easy inventions of a timid wold and weeping river have begun to climb the ladder alongside the storytellers in their classroom.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    After reading this book, I realized just how much pressure must be on Kindergarten teachers today. There are expectations put upon them to prepare children academically for first grade when so many of them were not prepared for today's Kindergarten in the first place. From then on, it's a snowball effect in which each subsequent teacher is trying to catch every child up on academic standards. What ever happened to preparing them for life? Einstein said, "Education is what remains after one has f After reading this book, I realized just how much pressure must be on Kindergarten teachers today. There are expectations put upon them to prepare children academically for first grade when so many of them were not prepared for today's Kindergarten in the first place. From then on, it's a snowball effect in which each subsequent teacher is trying to catch every child up on academic standards. What ever happened to preparing them for life? Einstein said, "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.", and this book follows that train of thought. As more time passes, play is devalued more and more... then people wonder why children have no critical thinking and problem solving skills. It's evident that so much can be learned through fantasy play and storytelling... much more than simply learning what you need to pass a test. Reading this book renewed my hope for what Early Childhood Professionals can do in classrooms to get back their roots in play. I highly recommend reading this if you work with young children or have children of your own!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ximena

    After reading first few chapters: Loving it so far. . . thanks Christy for telling me to read Paley some years ago. Looking forward to Claudita´s storymaking. . . When I finished reading it: The transcriptions children playing are wonderful. I think I'll be a better mom because of reading this book; it helped me understand many things about how children make sense of the world. I will pay more attention to the stories that my little daughter will tell, and now have a better idea of how to use story After reading first few chapters: Loving it so far. . . thanks Christy for telling me to read Paley some years ago. Looking forward to Claudita´s storymaking. . . When I finished reading it: The transcriptions children playing are wonderful. I think I'll be a better mom because of reading this book; it helped me understand many things about how children make sense of the world. I will pay more attention to the stories that my little daughter will tell, and now have a better idea of how to use storytelling as part of learning at home. As an educator, if I have the chance to work with preschoolers in the future (and there is a chance that I will be involved in a project with small kids next year), I will definitely draw from this book to be respectful of children's play as their very serious way of making sense of events that have impressed them, fears, relationships with family and friends, and many other things that are important to them.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marissa Morrison

    The author says that kindergarten should be for play. She advocates saving academic work until first grade. As a kindergarten teacher, she would write down the children's oral stories and then they would act them out. Collaboration is important to kids; in pretend play they incorporate all the participants' ideas. If you want to change a child's behavior, using "Let's pretend" is very effective, according to Paley. For instance, if a kid always knocks down blocks, you can say "Let's pretend you'r The author says that kindergarten should be for play. She advocates saving academic work until first grade. As a kindergarten teacher, she would write down the children's oral stories and then they would act them out. Collaboration is important to kids; in pretend play they incorporate all the participants' ideas. If you want to change a child's behavior, using "Let's pretend" is very effective, according to Paley. For instance, if a kid always knocks down blocks, you can say "Let's pretend you're a good block builder." I wish I could be clearer about what this book is about, but it didn't stick with me too well. This was rather difficult last-moments-before-bedtime reading material, because the author quotes her students verbatim. The weird sentence constructions made me pause frequently to figure out what the kindergartners were trying to say.

  5. 4 out of 5

    April

    Surprisingly interesting!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I'm not sure why it took me several months to finish this book of just over a hundred pages, but for some reason, I would read one or two of the short chapters and then leave it for a week or two. I liked the ideas and observations but I felt like it was lacking in substance. But I think it at least is a good starting point for examining the importance of fantasy play and storytelling in the development of young children. I'm not sure why it took me several months to finish this book of just over a hundred pages, but for some reason, I would read one or two of the short chapters and then leave it for a week or two. I liked the ideas and observations but I felt like it was lacking in substance. But I think it at least is a good starting point for examining the importance of fantasy play and storytelling in the development of young children.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    The kindergarten programs around us now unfortunately do not seem to much resemble the one presented in this book. I think my son would thrive in the kind of dramatic play environment that Vivian Paley created for her students. This book opened my eyes to the value of dramatic play to a child: intellectually, socially, and emotionally. It brought home how hard it is to remember how to think like a child.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    I really enjoy Paley's writing and agree with her perspectives. This book is especially poingant as I have a kidergartener in public schools. I wish the legislators would read this book before they reevaluate no child left behind. I really enjoy Paley's writing and agree with her perspectives. This book is especially poingant as I have a kidergartener in public schools. I wish the legislators would read this book before they reevaluate no child left behind.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I read portions of this book for a class. Very informative and thought provoking, though Paley uses personal narrative to illustrate her point more than anything else (i.e. scientific research). However, it serves its purpose well.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Very worthwhile read. I loved the stories and really learned from them. Can't wait to read more Paley. Very worthwhile read. I loved the stories and really learned from them. Can't wait to read more Paley.

  11. 5 out of 5

    deanna

    Had to read this for my Bachelor of Education and it was pretty repetitive and boring and outdated. Also, at one point, the white kids in the class ask their classmate, who had recently moved to the US from India if he wanted to join them playing and be the terrorist who bombs the building and all the adults ignored that??? Seeing as this was written in2004, the kindergarten kids knew about 9/11 and were equating the little boy from India to a terrorist because of his skin colour, and Paley and Had to read this for my Bachelor of Education and it was pretty repetitive and boring and outdated. Also, at one point, the white kids in the class ask their classmate, who had recently moved to the US from India if he wanted to join them playing and be the terrorist who bombs the building and all the adults ignored that??? Seeing as this was written in2004, the kindergarten kids knew about 9/11 and were equating the little boy from India to a terrorist because of his skin colour, and Paley and the teacher, who clearly observed the entire interaction, said nothing?????? Girl you're teaching kids that it's okay to be racist and to use inherently racist and harmful stereotypes but ok go off about fantasy play

  12. 5 out of 5

    May

    Full of examples to illustrate different points. Easy to read. A great starting point for anyone interested in finding out more about the relevance of play in childhood and how it is related to their language, academic, motoric and emotional developments.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa

    Some interesting information but very anecdotal and way way way to many metaphors and similes that it took away from the heart of the book. So interesting and I enjoyed it but fell short of expectations.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alice Rose

    This non fiction about fantasy play is a mixture of anecdotes and sprinklings of reasearch between. Easy to read. Highly reccomend to educators or parents to see the value of fantasy in: developing literacy, working through trauma, including diverse learners, and more.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Brooke

    This need to be required reading for educators and people interested in improving education.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I really liked this one. Such an open and inspiring way of viewing the impact of fantasy play. Definitely one to read before you enter the classroom.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Roslyn

    What a stupid, pointless waste of my time. This book has no real argument. It's a lament to times gone by and an emotional appeal rather than a rational one. I hate it when people claim things like this author did at the beginning, "There was a time when play was king and early childhood was its domain." Really? When? Was that the "play" invented by the victorians? Because I don't think she's referring to the middle ages. Or hunter gatherer tribes that exist today. But oooh, times were sooooo go What a stupid, pointless waste of my time. This book has no real argument. It's a lament to times gone by and an emotional appeal rather than a rational one. I hate it when people claim things like this author did at the beginning, "There was a time when play was king and early childhood was its domain." Really? When? Was that the "play" invented by the victorians? Because I don't think she's referring to the middle ages. Or hunter gatherer tribes that exist today. But oooh, times were sooooo good once, weren't they? Cause your generation certainly ended up happy and well-adjusted from your amazing childhoods! Lady, there is nothing natural or normal about a school setting or the behavior it inspires in children. You're a teacher? How about cracking open a history book? This book had a lot of transcripts of conversations kids have with each other and I enjoyed those that involved real life practice (there were maybe 2). Most of the conversations were children attempting to understand the rules of good guys and bad guys and magical powers... and they just made me sad. Some of the conversations were children using stories they had read to express their feelings. These also made me sad--children are crippled with zero vocabulary to discuss how they feel and can only express themselves through stories they have been read! Naturally what the author takes away from this is that children can ONLY express their emotions through stories.... Now, I have nothing against stories that don't confuse children about reality and don't teach them bad philosophy but SERIOUSLY? How about a little emotional education, instead? There are times when the author gets it totally wrong what the children are talking about too. A lot of the time they are not expressing an emotion that they don't know how to express. They are trying to understand reality--do bad guys have mothers? Are bad guys allowed to have mothers? My 2.5 year old doesn't actually know concepts like good guys and bad guys--he isn't being trained to think about the world in those terms. He does know words like afraid, puzzled, worried, sad, mad, etc. All the "ideas" she thinks kids can't understand unless they talk about them in the form of talking spiders and flying men! The author can't understand how children would be able to confront their fantasy villains without lots of fantasy play.... What I can't understand is why children have villains! Why do we teach our children to think about the world in these ways? It's so sad! She says that superhero play is no different from the cowboy play that happened 50 years ago... I beg to differ. Philosophically they are similar, yes, they involve good guys and bad guys and our cultural myth of heroic man saving village. But for children they are very different. Cowboys were real--they didn't fly. They didn't have magic. They didn't rob children of their self-confidence in their ability to understand reality. (Well, they still did kind-of since, even though they were part of reality, they weren't part of most children't actual day-to-day reality.) A lot of what this lady is lamenting isn't about fantasy play, it's about free time. Allowing children unstructured time to do with what they wish: that I totally agree with. Children who go to school are absolutely robbed of the personal development they would get with more free time. But guess what? When you make children focus on all this total bullshit they are wasting years of their lives anyway. What kinds of questions do three-year-olds think about for a week: Can one see poison if she is invisible? Yeah, that's an important use of her time. What was disturbing about this book was that the teacher doesn't just want to let the kids play--she wants to use their play, to control it. And granted, I have read about how play can be used to lengthen kids attention spans if you make them play what they are going to play before they play it and then have them stick to their game but... you gotta pick your side. This lady is on both sides. She wants kids to do more dramatic play AND she wants to control that play and use it to change the children. She argues like she is on the side of freedom for children and then having free time and enjoying life but... she's not. That's just lip service. There is a perfect example of this (her secret agenda) towards the end. She uses the Hobbit story to help children come to the conclusion that anyone with a magic ring would use it to do bad things. Which is why we need police men and government and parents to keep us all in line! Since we're all actually bad.... This author also thinks play is good so that children can always understand that they are just playing different roles and they can switch roles at any time. One last nail in the coffin for Standard American Parenting Experts. Why do you speak about training children to be inauthentic and out of touch with what they really feel like it's a good thing? If only I could use play to trick this lady into learning some Non Violent Communication....

  18. 5 out of 5

    Erik Akre

    Paley affirms that play is absolutely necessary for the psychology of childhood. Her stories--and this book is basically a thesis developed completely in stories of children--demonstrate how fantasy play can heal and transform children, and how they can relate to each other at their own level through acting out fantasy. Anyone who's spent time with young children knows that this kind of play is natural and in-born. Maria Montessori, a kind of hero to me, notably dismissed fantasy play as unimport Paley affirms that play is absolutely necessary for the psychology of childhood. Her stories--and this book is basically a thesis developed completely in stories of children--demonstrate how fantasy play can heal and transform children, and how they can relate to each other at their own level through acting out fantasy. Anyone who's spent time with young children knows that this kind of play is natural and in-born. Maria Montessori, a kind of hero to me, notably dismissed fantasy play as unimportant (or even degenerate) compared to real work in the real world, but Paley shows very directly and forcefully how this must be untrue. Children are wired for this play, as you will see on the playground at any Montessori school. The real value of this book is its stories. Paley is a uniquely gifted storyteller and observer of the child-mind. The book reads well even from this angle only. Its implications arise from there. The dark side of her discovery, of course, is the decline of fantasy play in our children's lives: the ubiquitous media, the time- and outdoor-starved lives so many children live. (And school too! What space is there at school for fantasy play? Perhaps 15 minutes rushed on the playground, but impoverished the rest of the day.) An important read for Kindergarten and preschool teachers especially.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Abby Johnson

    I'm definitely on board as far as the importance of play for children, but I'd prefer a more research-based book. Paley has come to her own conclusions after decades of teaching and observing children in early childhood settings, but the unorganized, anecdotal evidence presented in the book didn't really do it for me. (Not to mention the complete lack of source citations, even in the chapter entitled "Proving What We Know".) I definitely took a lot of notes as I was reading and I think this will I'm definitely on board as far as the importance of play for children, but I'd prefer a more research-based book. Paley has come to her own conclusions after decades of teaching and observing children in early childhood settings, but the unorganized, anecdotal evidence presented in the book didn't really do it for me. (Not to mention the complete lack of source citations, even in the chapter entitled "Proving What We Know".) I definitely took a lot of notes as I was reading and I think this will make for a very interesting discussion (I read it for the Storytime Underground Book Club). According to Paley, play is an essential part of preschool learning, but I wonder if typical library programs allow enough time for effective play. Perhaps a better library application might be providing props and space in the children's space where families might be able to spend more time.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    While this book was interesting I felt like I did not learn anything new about this topic. We all know that children are not playing enough these days. School has become focused on the curriculum and testing, they simply do not get a chance to play in school anymore. We know that when the children go home most of them sit down in front of a television. Kids do not know how to be kids anymore, they have become mini adults. If you are looking for information about why play is so important to child While this book was interesting I felt like I did not learn anything new about this topic. We all know that children are not playing enough these days. School has become focused on the curriculum and testing, they simply do not get a chance to play in school anymore. We know that when the children go home most of them sit down in front of a television. Kids do not know how to be kids anymore, they have become mini adults. If you are looking for information about why play is so important to children and their development I suggest you give this book a try. 2.5

  21. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I was simply amazed by this book. I cannot believe how much things have changed in the education field in the short 11 years since the book was published (her frequent mentions of 9/11 tipped me off). I worry about the state of Kindergarten with so many families choosing to redshirt their summer babies...the pressure is now being pushed onto our preK kiddos who should absolutely not be rushed into academics. I truly believe this will be one of the biggest regrets of our generation...our children I was simply amazed by this book. I cannot believe how much things have changed in the education field in the short 11 years since the book was published (her frequent mentions of 9/11 tipped me off). I worry about the state of Kindergarten with so many families choosing to redshirt their summer babies...the pressure is now being pushed onto our preK kiddos who should absolutely not be rushed into academics. I truly believe this will be one of the biggest regrets of our generation...our children are missing out on their time to play.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Leila T.

    This is a very slim volume, easy to read and very interesting and thought-provoking. It's true that, as other reviewers here have mentioned, it's heavy on the anecdotes and light on the substantive research. But this didn't bother me, since it's clear it's not trying to be anything other than a light and serious reflection on the importance of playtime for children. Definitely something I'll be keeping in mind for the future and recommending to sprogged-up friends. This is a very slim volume, easy to read and very interesting and thought-provoking. It's true that, as other reviewers here have mentioned, it's heavy on the anecdotes and light on the substantive research. But this didn't bother me, since it's clear it's not trying to be anything other than a light and serious reflection on the importance of playtime for children. Definitely something I'll be keeping in mind for the future and recommending to sprogged-up friends.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

    Another lovely work by Ms Paley. She always seems to get right down to heart of things and this is no exception. There were many more anecdotes of her children's storytelling and dramatic reproduction of them. I also like when she talks to older kids and compares their answers with her younger ones. We even got some interesting glimpses into classrooms in Shanghai and London. A fast and enlightening read. Another lovely work by Ms Paley. She always seems to get right down to heart of things and this is no exception. There were many more anecdotes of her children's storytelling and dramatic reproduction of them. I also like when she talks to older kids and compares their answers with her younger ones. We even got some interesting glimpses into classrooms in Shanghai and London. A fast and enlightening read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    Having to read anything takes the joy right out of it. Even reading a fun fiction book club book by a deadline makes it tougher to read. This book read just like a textbook to me and I scoffed at parts of it. I don't deny that the theories the author has our true and good ideas, but some of the examples seemed forced. I do agree with the premise though. Still love that I have a boss who does book club as part of our faculty meetings, but this was a meh, 2.5 star kind of book. Having to read anything takes the joy right out of it. Even reading a fun fiction book club book by a deadline makes it tougher to read. This book read just like a textbook to me and I scoffed at parts of it. I don't deny that the theories the author has our true and good ideas, but some of the examples seemed forced. I do agree with the premise though. Still love that I have a boss who does book club as part of our faculty meetings, but this was a meh, 2.5 star kind of book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    A quick read and an important reminder to get back to the basics in the classroom: a child's work is play. We learn best by doing, so let children learn by what they do best. Okay, I'm stepping down from my soapbox now. A quick read and an important reminder to get back to the basics in the classroom: a child's work is play. We learn best by doing, so let children learn by what they do best. Okay, I'm stepping down from my soapbox now.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    Really insightful into how kids create elaborate play scenarios. Made me reconnect with how play is simple not a huge dramatic occurrence that needs pre-planning. The "spirit of fantasy play" is strong. As is the desire to tell stories. Would like to incorporate play acting into library storytime. Really insightful into how kids create elaborate play scenarios. Made me reconnect with how play is simple not a huge dramatic occurrence that needs pre-planning. The "spirit of fantasy play" is strong. As is the desire to tell stories. Would like to incorporate play acting into library storytime.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    This is out of my usual vein - there are no studies, no real arguments and no development of ideas. Basically, this book is just examples of creative play (not even a how-to manual). I would like my son to have a kindergarten experience like this, though.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    I enjoyed this book. Good to hear others ideas in teaching.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    Important idea, kind of obvious but needs to be encouraged in today's test-oriented schools. Lots of real-world examples. Needed a bibliography. Important idea, kind of obvious but needs to be encouraged in today's test-oriented schools. Lots of real-world examples. Needed a bibliography.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kaitlan

    3.5 stars

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