Serious Fun: How Guided Play Extends Children's Learning

reviewed by James Johnson - July 11, 2019

coverTitle: Serious Fun: How Guided Play Extends Children's Learning
Author(s): Marie L. Masterson & Holly Bohar (Eds.)
Publisher: National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, DC
ISBN: 193811339X, Pages: 160, Year: 2019
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The Greek word Spoudogeloios (from the words spoudos, meaning serious or earnest, and gelein, meaning to laugh) captures an ancient ideal; an evenness of spirit, a balance of gravity with levity. Serious Fun: How Guided Play Extends Children’s Learning instructs early childhood teachers and parents in the art of exercising the spirit of spoudogeloios. The book offers richly informative and timely coverage of a paradigm that perhaps can stop, once and for all, the cycle of alternating between overly didactic instruction and overly permissive free play.


The book provides many opportunities to consider important basic questions about the adult’s role in children’s play and the relationship between teaching, playing, and learning. Play is valuable, certainly, even when it does not contribute to the curriculum and even if teachers are not involved. Nevertheless, this book draws attention to the role of teachers (or parents) in providing background experiences, making play provisions, and implementing interactional strategies; in other words, guiding the play of young children. Guided play is defined as the coming together of child-initiated play or exploration and adult guidance in the service of developmental or educational aims, keeping in mind the importance of child autonomy and choice-making.


There is an important difference between adult-directed play and adult-guided play, as well as between adult-child joint play (teacher as co-player/playmate, a rarity in school settings) and adult-guided child play. Teacher observation and setting the stage for play distally and proximally (including making moment-to-moment situational adjustments) are constant, but whether the adult’s interventions occur inside or outside the play frame varies. An extending style of adult guidance seeks to nurture ongoing play enactments, preserving the play episode, but a redirecting style usually disrupts it.


As the text attractively and clearly illustrates, adult play guidance is multi-dimensional and can serve many purposes in early education. The volume is organized into two sections, “Part One: Intentionally Creating Play Environments for Learning” and “Part Two: Providing Rich Content Experiences Through Play.”


This review has already mentioned the fact that a great deal of what children learn in play does not necessarily involve adults, curriculum goals, or learning standards. Such play in general has been called authentic or everyday play. Authentic play by definition is taken as meaningful to the child and is commonly considered as serving holistic development. Curricular play that children do is known as polite play as it is relationally motivated (i.e., based on the child’s relationship with their teacher). The teacher as an educational play curator has aims that may undermine the child’s play spirit.


Hence the importance of learning how to be a good play teacher; one who knows how to read the child’s play state as well as the child’s sense of what the teacher is up to. Achieving and maintaining mutual engagement with one child is challenging; even greater this challenge of working with a small or large group of preschoolers or kindergarteners. Sensitive play guidance aiming to extend learning, enrich development, or enhance the wellbeing of the child is easier said than done.


The book is valuable for its special features as well as for its chapters. There are the wonderful photos and useful captions, thought-provoking questions and comments at the beginning of each chapter, and suggested strategies at the end of each chapter to use in one’s own teaching. After Chapter Eight, Marie L. Masterson provides reflections, including a useful checklist for an environment for playful learning. At the end of the book, Laurel Bongiorno also writes a section specifically for families: “Play and Learning Go Hand in Hand.” Useful and up-to-date “References and Resources for Further Learning” close out this exciting and necessary new book for teachers and parents of young children. This book is also recommendable for teacher educators and leaders.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 11, 2019 ID Number: 22966, Date Accessed: 1/21/2022 11:58:15 PM

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