Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 10, 223-247 (19953Play is Nof foe Wof~ of fhe Child:Young C~il~fe~‘s Perceptions of Wof~ and PlayLisa A. WingSyracuse UniversityUsing qualitative methods of participant observation and in-depth interviewing, this research explored kindergarten and first and second gradechildren’s perceptions of classroom activities. Young children perceivedclassroom activities in terms of what they considered to be work and whatthey considered to be play. Children identified many messages they receivedfrom the classroom context, their peers, and their teachers that contributedto their distinctions. Distinguishing elements included the obligatory natureof activities, the cognitive and physical effort required, the involvementand evaluation of the teacher, and the fun children experienced whileengaged in activities. Children saw some activities as “in-between” workand play. A work-play continuum is presented that incorporates children’scharacterizations.The activities in which children engage during their first days, weeks, andmonths in their classrooms contribute to the foundations of their ideasabout school. Many researchers have argued that long-term ideas aboutschool 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 attentionto 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 provideddeeper 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 arevaluable information for practitioners and researchers” (p. 262).I thank Margaret Lay-Dopyera for her thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of thisarticle.Correspondence and requests for reprints should be sent to Lisa A. Wing, 73 SagamoreDrive, Rochester, NY 14617.223224 WingThe purpose of this study was to explore young children’s perceptions ofclassroom activities. Children’s daily classroom activities occupy most ofthe time children spend in school. It it through classroom activities thatteachers attempt to reach educational objectives, and it is classroom activities and routines that send messages to children about what school is allabout. Understanding children’s perceptions of classroom activities informsus 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 meaningfrom the events, situations, and interactions in their classrooms, and indoing so they form a framework around which they understand what theydo in school. Jerry, a kindergarten student, demonstrated his conceptualorganization 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 thatwere work and those that were play. In his view, the categories work andplay encompassed what he did in school. For the children in this study, issuesof work and play were central to how they made meaning from classroompursuits. The themes work and pfay emerged clearly from the onset of thisresearch, and it was apparent that children used the constructs of work andplay to order classroom activities. This finding stimulated a series of additional questions. How do children make these distinctions? Do they haveconsistent or shared criteria for interpreting some activities as work andsome as play? What messages do children receive from adults, peers, andother aspects of the classroom context that contribute to their ideas? Arechildren aware of these messages, and can they articulate them?RELATED LITERATUREFew researchers have examined children’s perspectives on work and play inthe context of the primary school classroom. In three related studies, King(1976, 1979, 1982, 1986) observed in classrooms and engaged children fromkindergarten through fifth grade in an interview regarding their definitionsof work and play in school. She found that children’s criteria for labelingactivities as work or play changed through the elementary grades. Elementsof the social context, such as teacher direction and supervision, played alarger role in children’s categories at younger ages and elements of thepsychological 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 workPlay is Not the Work of the Child 225and play. She found that children distinguished between work and play interms of the locus of the decision to engage in the activity, the affectiveaspects, and the goal orientation. Garza, Briley, and Reifel (1985) interviewed preschool children about their daily day care center activities. Theyfound that children spontaneously used the category play to refer to someactivities, such as pretend with materials, nonpretend manipulation ofmaterials, sociodramatic play, and organized games.This study involved more extensive time and involvement with childrenin their classrooms, revealing a richer and a deeper understanding of howchildren construct the meanings of work and play. The language childrenuse while engaged in activities and while describing them gives us insightinto their perceptions (Fivush, 1984; Reifel, 1986; 1988). Reifel explained,One route for getting to this meaning is conducting sociolinguistic analysesrelated to the classroom context. In other words, we need to find out howchildren use language to describe the classroom context. They can, theoretically,directly provide information on the meanings they are experiencing in theirdaily environment. (1986, p. 4)The language children use to describe their experiences helps researchersunderstand 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.METHODSitesThis study took place in a kindergarten and a first/second grade classroomin a small suburban primary school. After consulting with the supervisorsof curriculum and instruction in several districts, two classrooms werechosen 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 workand play were regularly blurred. Mrs. Kip, the kindergarten teacher, andMrs. Samuels, the first/second grade teacher, emphasized a child-centered,integrated, hands-on approach. Mrs. Kip and Mrs. Samuels described theirprograms and beliefs:Mrs. Kip: Everything we do is hands-on math, hands-on puzzles. . .as we’redoing all these things, they are learning their letters and sounds. Butthat’s not the emphasis. . .I am doing what they call the holisticapproach. . Nothing is taught by itself, everything is integrated. . .Ijust put out materials and they’re doing whatever they wish them. . .226 WingSometimes it’s free exploration, and sometimes it’s a task that tbeydo. . .It looks like they’re piaying. _.Mrs. Samuels: it’s a hands-on experience. . .they’re making some observations anddoing some discovery work. . .Comprehension is high on the list ofskills 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’sabout a subject.. . .I think it’s real important for them to exploreand to experiment. . .Mrs. Kip and Mrs. Samuels expressed their beliefs that learning is a processof playful exploration and discovery. They designed learning environmentsand programs that incorporated basic skills into activities they thoughtwould be meaningful, challenging, and enjoyable for children. They usedmanipulative materials extensively and acted as facilitators and resources instimulating children’s experimentation, problem-solving, reasoning, andsocial collaboration.The classrooms were arranged into learning centers. A small part of eachday was spent in teacher-directed whole group lessons. Children spent thegreater 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 CollectionThe research employed qualitative methods of participant observation andin-depth interviewing in the tradition of symbolic interactionism (Bogdan &Biklen, 1992). Qualitative research techniques afford rich data through whichit 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 duringone school year. During that time, 14 children from each classroom wereengaged in multiple in-depth interviews. The children were told that theresearcher was writing a book about what children think about school andwhat they do in kindergarten and first/second grade. The researcherselected children to interview who had received parental permission andwho represented a range of academic levels.The first interview with each child was open-ended and explored children’sperspectives on school in general. Later, each child was observed during aclassroom activity. Immediately following the activity, the observed childwas engaged in a semistructured interview. The interview probed children’sintentions and perceptions of the functions of the activity. Children wereasked to elaborate on how they characterized or differentiated between difPlay is Not the Work of the Child 227ferent types of activities, and how they viewed that activity in connectionwith other experiences. The interviews were open-ended in that the children’sresponses guided the directions of questions. Each child participated in twosemistructured interviews. A few children participated in a fourth interviewintended to follow up on questions that arose during data analysis or duringparticipant observation. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed.Teachers were interviewed twice formally. Each teacher described herdaily schedule and discussed the types of activities she provided and the purposes or objectives for those activities. Each teacher commented on the roleof play in her classrooms and in children’s learning, and described what shemeant by play. Teachers also explained the rationale behind their roomarrangements, materials selection, decision-making, and assessment procedures. Teacher interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed.Data AnalysisData were analyzed in a constant comparative method, described byBogdan and Biklen (1992) and Glaser and Strauss (1967). Data analysis wasongoing throughout data collection, with initial analysis shaping furtherdata collection. Interview transcripts and participant observation fieldnoteswere coded, sorted, and analyzed for emerging themes and patterns. An intensive period of analysis at the end of data collection involved searchingfor relationships among patterns in order to come to a deeper understanding of the perceptions of the children in the context of their classrooms.RESULTSThe terms work and play surfaced repeatedly as children talked about classroom pursuits. In contrast to the early childhood maxim “play is the workof the child,” in children’s minds, play is not work. As they spoke about theactivities in which they engaged in their classrooms, they used these categoriesto describe different types of endeavors. The categories represented differentexperiences for children, in spite of the fact that their teachers consciouslyattempted 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 convincingevidence that they were aware of the role adults and social contexts playedin their experiences at school.Children employed fairly consistent criteria in thinking about what constituted work and what constituted play. These criteria can be gleaned fromwhat children explained in interviews and from what was seen and heardduring classroom observations.228 Wing“Have to” Work, “Can” PluyThe largest single element that seemed to determine if children consideredactivities 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 theirdefinition 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 andwork. And playing is you just do whatever you want.Gemma emphasized that play was different from work. She associatedwork with writing and with things “you have to do,” whereas play waswhen “you just do whatever you want.” Children generally reserved theterm work for externally controlled activities and pfay referred to activitiesthat were subject primarily to internal control.Elena pointed out the role of teacher directions in her thinking aboutwork and play:Elena: Like, working is like when she’s telling you what to do. And when we’replaying we just do anything. We don’t go by her rules, like if we started to dosomething and we didn’t want to do it anymore, we could just put it awayand 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 ofwork, such as completing tasks, and the ability to choose and to switch activities in play. Elena also implied that her intentions were central to playactivities, whereas Mrs. Samuels’ intentions were central to work activities.In this study, children’s language gave insight into their perceptions ofthe sources of control over their activities. In interviews and in activities, thephrases have fo and can surfaced repeatedly. These phrases were such anatural part of the flow of language that they would have been easy to overlook. However, on closer inspection a pattern was apparent. Childrennaturally 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 dowhen it’s our G day, we have to.Have to flowed naturally as children talked about writing, spelling, mathstations, projects, calendar (the morning routine), reading, and other rePlay is Not the Work of the Child 229quired activities. In contrast, children spontaneously used can, interchangeably with get to, when they talked about activities they considered tobe play. Carly contrasted the can (get to) play in the sand with the have towork in the sand:Carly: . . .when there are new materials, you get to play with them and do whateveryou want. And just get used to it. Like when the sand was here we could dowhatever 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 theteacher says.For Carly, using the sand shifted from can play to have to work when theteacher’s directions or expectationsbecame central to the activity. Childrenrecognizedand could articulatethe contextualnature of work and play.They were aware that shifting the social context from voluntaryto compulsory changed their characterizationsof 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, andconstructionmaterials(except for math activities),handlingclass pets,board and computer games, and recess. These were the same activities children consistentlyreferred to as play. To the extent that children were required to do activities, or to the extentthat 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 couldchoose 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 suchas can and have to simply reflective of adult language? Teachers occasionallyused the words work, play, have to, and can. However, a close examination ofchildren’s ideas revealed that they did not simply mirror those of adults, in fact at times their ideas were quite contradictory.Children constructedtheirown understandingsadults providedof classroom activities, and the categorical language ofonly one source of information.Childrenalso employedother elements in their characterizationsof activities as work and play. Teacher Expectations and Involvement Analysisof participantobservationfield notes indicatedthat there was apattern in children’s constructionof activities as work or as play and the expectationsand involvementof the teacher during activities.Recall that children identifiedpainting,the housekeepingarea, blocks,sand, and constructionmaterials (except for math activities), handlingclassthesepets, board and computergames, and recess as play. In analyzingactivities,it was apparentthat teachers were rarely involved with children 230 Wingduring them. In the kindergarten, Mrs. Kip generally supervised one of theprojects (which children called work) during learning centers time. She onlyoccasionally peeked into areas where children engaged in what they calledplay 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 boardsand materials preparation during children’s community time, which was thefirst 30 to 45 min of each day and was a time during which activities occurredthat children consistently referred to as play.Teachers’ involvement was quite different in activities that children calledwork, which were writing, spelling, math stations, projects, calendarroutine, reading, and other required activities. Participant observation fieldnotes revealed that teachers generally remained in close proximity tochildren during work activities. They either led children through the activityor circulated among children, assisting or supervising them:Mrs. Kip: [giving directions about a poster-making activity in which thechildren were to draw themselves reading a book] Start with yourselffirst. Draw a picture of yourself, then figure out where you want tobe… .And make sure you get a book in there too, okay?. . You canput 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, andthink 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 tomake sure whether or not it makes sense. . . .If it’s a word that youcan read, I will expect you to use your dictionary to look up the wordfor an adult spelling. If it’s a word you don’t know to read, then youhave 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 thatchildren considered work. Teachers often communicated expectations tochildren 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 expectyou to” appeared frequently in teachers’ interactions around work activities.Although children did not clearly state that teacher involvement signalledwork, they demonstrated their awareness that activities they considered tobe work were designed and directed by teachers, and that teachers hadexpectations about the products that would result from children’s efforts.In addition, the language children used gave insight into their perceptionsof the “ownership” of classroom activities. They regularly viewed workactivities as centering around intentions belonging to the teachers, not thechildren. Children often did not talk in terms of what they wanted to learnor accomplish; they spoke of what their teachers desired. Interview andparticipant observation data indicated that children’s intentions more oftenPlay is Not the Work of the Child 231entered into their play activities. They described play in terms of what theywanted to accomplish, and indicated that they engaged in the activitybecause 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. ‘Causethere has to be a yellow broom, and a red apple. . . .Elena:Int:Elena:Int:Elena:Int: [contrastingusing blocks during recess and using blocks during math time]We, instead of recess, we do urn, math sometimes,in math we have to do something that we not-thatand it’s different becausewe’re not playing with, that we’re building with. . . .And we try to put the towers as high as we canand then if they fall we have to put them up together again, so we can’t justmake all these little buildings, we have to just do what Mrs. Samuels tells ustodo…Now, why do you have to do the towers in math but in the recess part youcan 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 andstuff, but when we’re playing it’s different because you can do whateverthing you want. . . .That’s interesting. What did you mean when you said it’s more like regularschool?Elena: I mean like when she tells us what to do.Kirk demonstrated his awareness of Mrs. Kip’s expectation that the childrenwould complete the ghost book “a certain way.” Elena expressed herawareness that the constraints of teacher direction entered into the distinction she made between work and play. It appeared that children usedteacher directions and interactions as signals that some activities were work.Phrases such as “a certain way, ” “we have to just do what Mrs. Samuelstells us to do” and “you can do whatever thing you want” may also indicatethe 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 outcomeof the activity. It seemed that the process of using the materials was morecentral to such activities than any product that resulted. Children were notexpected 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 toerase 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 ifyou make a design but, if you mess up, then you can just-thenit can just bepart of the picture if you make a design.. . 232 WingInt: 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 justerase it.Rita contrasted the drawing during community time, when “messing up”could be incorporated into the child’s plan at the child’s discretion, withhomework, when “messing up” would not meet teacher expectations andthus 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 playbehaviors and they rarely made evaluative comments to children duringplay activities. Likewise, children rarely sought adult approval when theywere engaged in play activities.A different pattern was apparent during activities children considered tobe work. Teachers regularly made evaluative comments while children wereengaged 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 tomake combinations that add up to 51 You’re good at exploring andinvestigating.Mrs. Kip evaluated the amount of detail in Bruce’s coloring, and Mrs.Samuels evaluated Cameron’s ability to think of many combinations ofconnecting cubes. Teachers also evaluated the end products after childrencompleted 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 myIndian?! What do you think?!Holly requested that an adult give general feedback about her art project. Ina subsequent interview, Holly described the art project as work.Children demonstrated their awareness of an evaluative element duringinterviews:Elena: Writing is pretty hard because you gotta think of what you’re doing, and besure when you’re finished that you know what you want to do and thateverything’s perfect on your paper.Play is Not the Work of the Child 233Elena 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 forthcomingabout their school work. The impending evaluation may have contributedto 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 QuitData from interviews and observations revealed that children recognizedthat there were expectations for bringing some activities to completionwhereas others could be abandoned at will. Children used this distinction intheir constructions of work and play. Children articulated and demonstrated in many ways that the need to finish an activity contributed to itscharacterization 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’llhave to finish it after Christmas.Jaclyn stated emphatic~ly that reading and writing activities requiredfinishing. She also clearly identified these activities as work. Mary expressedher belief that it was necessary to finish a Christmas project, even if it meantthat the project would continue after the holiday. The data indicate thatchildren recognized that the authority of teacher directions compelled themto continue working until they were told they could stop.In contrast, children readily expressed their understanding that playcould be abandoned at will:Ava: At community time, if you Iike want to play in the sand and then you don’tfeel 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 bedone first, play later. They discussed play in some centers as what theycould do when they were finished with their work: Lilli:Oh, but when you get done with your work, you can play. . . .because youhave to do your work first, then play. . . .[The housekeeping center is playing] because I already did my work!234 WingMickey: 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, thehousekeeping 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 askedchildren if they had finished something, or told the class that they were outof time and would be able to finish something the next day. Mrs. Kip oftenqueried children about whether or not they had been to particular centers tomake 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 orused the computer. In other words, Mrs. Kip checked to see that work wasdone, but did not check to see that play was done.Mrs. Samuels also sent messages to children about the importance offinishing work activities. She occasionally withheld recess if children did notfinish their work due to inappropriate behavior. She sometimes gave children a working snack break in order to finish a piece of writing or a readingassignment. Occasionally work left over from the previous afternoon supplanted morning community time. Participant observation data revealedthat there were no such consequences for not finishing a play activity. Playwas something that was cut short if it was engaged in inappropriately duringcommunity time, whereas work was something that was extended if childrenengaged in it inappropriately.Cognitive and Physical ActivityChildren’s views of school activities, and their distinctions between work andplay were often related to their perceptions of the physical or cognitivedemands of activities. Whether activities required concentration or involvedphysical movement frequently entered into children’s explanations of themas 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 volumeof sand various containers would hold] That’s not part of playing. . .that’susually part of working ‘cause you have to use your mind. When you’re notusing your mind is when you’re playing. . . .It’s a big, big difference. Youreally, really try to concentrate really hard when you’re working, but not whenyou’re playing.Ted contended that play activities did not involve thinking, concentrating,studying, or “using your mind.” He contrasted play with work, which hebelieved did involve cognitive effort. Data from interviews revealed thatPlay is Not the Work of the Child 235children recognized the cognitive strain of work activities, but saw playactivities as involving minimal cognitive effort. Children’s planning,decision-making, and problem-solving were evident in observations of playactivities. Elaborate schemes in sand and block play and intense concentration in self-selected drawing activities were apparent, However, childrenseemed 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 workcoloring:Stacy:Int:Stacy:Int:Stacy: Lilli:[talking about a cutting project] I hate when I work. You have to cut out a lotand it’s hard to get on those turns. 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 tomake 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’scalled working, and when you just try to, do it a little fast and a little takingtime it’s called playing.. . .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 thebasis of whether they were easy or hard. These judgments seemed to berelated to whether they characterized activities as work or as play andwhether they liked or disliked activities.The ~rst/second graders mentioned cognitive activity more frequentlythan the kindergartners when describing classroom activities. The kindergartners were more likely to focus on the physical nature of tasks. This maybe a reflection of the fact that the kindergarten program involved moremaking and playing and did not emphasize problem solving and comprehension. It may also be a reflection of the fact that kindergarten children’sfacility with metacognition was at its earliest stages (Pramling, 1983).The first/second graders often referred to needing quiet or concentrationduring activities they called work.Ted: If we were playing we would be doing it as fast as we can, and we wouldn’t beso quiet . . . .Like you concentrate on thinking, concentrate on the paper you’reworking with, concentrate with anything you’re trying to do-work. So that’swhy we have silence at work time, and we don’t have to have silence at playtime. It’s a very big difference.236 WingMany children associated quiet and concentration with work. Differences inthe noise level in the room, however, were difficult to perceive during classroom observations. Children conversed almost continually in the first/secondgrade, and were usually quiet only when Mrs. Samuels was speaking to thewhole class. However, children took note of a few classroom practices thatmade an impression on their views of activities. Mrs. Samuels requestedlowered voices more often during work activities, and occasionally she set atimer for 10 min of “silent thought time” at the start of writing workshop.Children commented on the physical nature of activities as well, oftenbringing physical movement or physical contexts into their explanations ofwork and play. Cameron:When you’re playing like sometimes you are sweating and when you’redoing math it’s like working. . .When you’re playing you like runaround, and when it’s-whenyou 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” werephysical aspects of play that these children used to distinguish play activitiesfrom work activities. Other children mentioned sitting, listening, usingpaper and pencil, and being at tables as aspects of activities that contributedto their being work-like. Freedom of physical movement in the room, smiling, and manipulating toys made activities play-like for children. Childrenexpressed these distinctions in their explanations of work and play.FunChildren often mentioned fun when talking about classroom activities. Forthe most part children saw all activities as fun to some extent. Some childrenexpressed that there were degrees of fun, play being all the way fun andwork being somewhat fun. Int:Kirk:I wonder why you don’t think [making a ghost book] is playing?‘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 237Working 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 expressedpleasure in work as well. Fun, or liking or disliking activities did not seem tocontribute to the children’s ideas about work and play any more than otherelements.A Work-Play ContinuumAn interesting pattern emerged after interviewing children a second andthird time. Some children, particularly the first/second graders, begancharacterizing activities as “in between” working and playing or “a littlebit” working or playing. Other children used phrases such as “play working, ” “working-pla~ng,‘~ “pure playing,” “pure working,” and “playingand working all smushed together.” Probing of their ideas led to thefinding that children do not see all activities on opposite poles of work orplay. Instead, some elements of activities led children to view them as working and playing at the same time to some extent. Most children referred tothese activities as work, but some added that they were a little like playing atthe same time. Children identified elements of the activities that made themmore 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 thembeing work-like:Int: [asking about the structures-buiiding activity in which children built houseswith toothpicks and clay. Earlier in the interview Jaclyn had said the structures activity was “part of schoolwork.“] Remember the last time we weretalking, you said some of the things you do are working and some things areplaying?. . .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 doingit… .But you still, you know, down there doing something fun. It’s halfworking 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 manipulativeactivity contributed to the activity being work-like for children:Blair: [after saying that sand estimating was working] Well, it’s not like working, it’skind of both! It’s fun and like a little hard. . . .238 Wing hit:What’s the differencethere?Blair: Like urn, when you’re filling [the containers]up and stuff, that’s like kind ofplaying. And you gotta find the right [“more than” or “less than”] card, andread 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 contributedto his characterization of the activity as work.Observations revealed that another play-like element was that all of theseactivities made use of manipulative materials to some degree. These activitieswere less prescribed by the teacher than other activities. Children couldoften decide for themselves when they were finished, although arriving at afinishing point was still important.Emily: [talking about a patterning activity in which children wrote each letter oftheir name in one square of a grid and then colored all the e’s one color, allthe 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 activitymade 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 manipulativeactivities, but were sometimes able to choose when and for how long. Theteacher still evaluated the outcomes.Writing was the ultimate work activity for the children in kindergartenand first/second grade. Gemma:Playing, that you get to play with stuff, and working is you should writestuff, not playing with toys. For Gemma, writing was synonymous with working. Gemma referred towriting as a task that “should” be done, whereas playing is an activitychildren “get to” do. As children discussed writing activities, it seemed thatfor many children, writing meant the mechanical act of forming the lettersand the effort of getting words spelled correctly. Some children did talkabout writing in terms of composing, but spelling and letter formationseemed to loom largest in their minds. All of the children talked aboutwriting being work, and it appeared that writing was all the way on the workend of the continuum:Play is Not the Work of the Child 239Jaclyn: Writing, writing! I used to hate writing ‘cause it was working. I love writingeven though it’s working. And there’s no playing to it, but I love it. Participantobservationdata indicated that writing in these classroomshad many of the features of “working-playing.”Childrenusually could decide what to write, how long to make their piece of writing, and when tochoose a new topic. They usually spent as much time drawing as they didwriting during writing time. However, the children did not consider writingto be playing unless they chose to write or to draw something during a playtime or at home. The fact that children were required to produce a productduring 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 floorlooking at magazines, walking around the room with pointers while readingprinted materials posted on walls and bulletin boards, completing readingrelated writing tasks, or sitting in rocking chairs reading books, childrengenerally saw reading as work. It was a have-to activity that was done in aprescribed way, required a great deal of cognitive effort, and was oftendone alone.The elements of the work-play continuum that children perceived aredelineated 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 playare present to some extent. He proposed that activities be considered “tohave that degree of play-work character according to the place to which it isassigned on a composite play-work continuum” (p. 319). Neumann (1971)and Bergen (1988) have also described a play-work continuum. The presentresearch indicates that many children recognize a work-play continuum aswell, although children’s ideas of a continuum are not entirely congruentwith those proposed by adults.Neumann’s (1971) criteria for play were internal control, internal reality,and internal motivation. Criteria for work for external control, externalreality, and external movitation. Neumann concluded that activities arerarely located at either extreme, and generally fall somewhere in between. Inchildren’s views, activities toward the center of the continuum were oftencontrolled and externally motivated; children participated in those activities240PLAYWing~. WORKNATURE OF THE ACTlVITYfree exploration of materialsgenerally involvesmanipulatives or other objectsdoes not require quietprocess-orienteddoes not require finishingchildren’s intentions centralusually physically activelittle mental concentrationor cognitive activity evidentto the childcan interact freely with peersactivities that are teacherdesigned but allow for somediscovery or creativityself-selected activities thatrequire concentration orattention to detailgames with rules andacademic contentCHILD INVOLVEMENTteachers’ intentions usuabycentral but more choicesavailable to the childcan usually interact freelywith peersusually funteacher-directed and designedactivitiesproduct-orientedusually involving penciland papersometimes requires quietprojects (in kindergarten)must be finishedmental concentration andcognitive activity evidentto the childcan sometimes interact withpeersusually physically inactivesometimes funalways funfew teacher expectationsrarely evaluated by theteacherTEACHER INVOLVEMENTgenerafly some teacher teachers’ expectations andevaluation intentions centraloutcomes evaluated by theteacherFigure 1. Children’s Perceived Work-Play Continuum because they had to. The degree of pleasure, the manipulativenature of thematerials,or the addition of reading and writing to an activity were strongercues that an activity was “in between”working and playing.Just as children’sideas were not necessarilyconsistentwith those ofwith those ofresearchersand theorists,they were not aIways congruent 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 messingaround with the letters of the alphabet,. . .Ietter sounds,. . .andwords and language as they’re writing. At math, they’re getting inPlay is Not the Work of the Child 241there and playing with the manipulatives if you will, just messingaround trying to see what all this means to their life, trying to bringsome 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 discoverythat took place throughout most classroom activities. She talked about“playing” with letters of the alphabet, letter sounds, words, language, andmath manipulatives. Children did not equate “messing around” with theactivities they considered to be work. They made definite distinctions betweenplay activities and work activities. Even activities that children identified asbeing toward the center of a work-play continuum were play-like and worklike for clearly definable reasons. Children plainly did not view experienceswith words, stories, writing, and math manipulatives to be playing. Theysaw 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 andcomplain that all we did was work, I get nervous because it shouldn’t bework. It should be fun. . .And to me, if it is work, it means it’s too hardfor 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 whenthey do some of those tough geometry problems. . .Although Mrs. Kip called some activities “work,” she did not thinkany of the activities in her program should be work-like for children. Sheassociated work with difficulty, and although she wanted children to bechallenged, she did not want them to be frustrated. She viewed play assynonymous with fun, and thought that children would consider activitiesto be play if they found them enjoyable. Indeed, the children in Mrs. Kip’sclass thought many of the things they did in school were work. They made aclear separation between work and play, and fun was far from the mostsignificant element in their characterizations. Children did not necessarilythink work was hard, and they often found work to be as pleasurable asplay. They did not always associate work with frustration or drudgery asdid their teacher. It is evident that children’s interpretation of classroomactivities were not always reflective of their teacher’s beliefs.DISCUSSION AND CONCL USZONSThis study showed how young children in two classrooms that de-emphasizedirect instruction methods perceive classroom activities. The themes thatemerged from months of participant observation and in-depth interviewingindicated that children primarily thought about classroom pursuits in termsof that they considered to be work and what they considered to be play.242 Wing Many theorists,educators,and researchersrefer to play as the “child’swork.” 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),1966, p. 491),“Play is a young child’s natural way of working”(Pitcher,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 andwhat is play. In their minds, play is not work. In interpretingclassroomacandtivities,childrenwere quite consistentin identifyingcharacteristicselements they used to distinguishbetween work and play. Children receivedmessagesin school from their teachers,peers, and classroomcontexts.These messages providedinformationchildrenused in constructingtheirthatviews of classroom activities as work and play. This study demonstratesalthough the messages were generally subtle, children noticed and could articulate many of the elements that led to their characterizations.The elementsidentifiedin this study as entering into children’scharcterizationsbetweenwork and play were the obligatoryor voluntarynature of the activity;itsevaluation;the child’s effort, cognitiveand physical activity;the level ofor could beteacher involvement;whether the activity had to be finishedabandonedat will; the types of materialsused; 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 allschool activities as they “mess around”with words, ideas, and manipulatives. Mrs. Kip said that classroomactivitiesshould be play, and that ifactivities were work-likethen they were probablytoo difficult.In spite ofthe 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 bywork activities presentedby teachers under the guise of play. This findingheld true in the present research as well. Data from interviews and observations revealed that when teachers imposed directionon activities,childrenthat theyindicated that they recognized that those activites were obligatory,saw that the teachers’ intentionswere central to the activity, and that theywere aware of teachersupervisionand evaluation.Childrenconsideredthose activities to be work, in spite of the teachers’ attempts to make themplay-like.This study demonstratesthat children are very skilled at makingsubtle distinctionsbetween work and play, but that teachers are for themost part unaware of them.It is noteworthythat the children in this study, like those in King’s (1976,1979, 1982, 1986) studies, did not necessarilyequate 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 engagedin work is not in itself a negative thing, from the child’s perspective.Play is Not the Work of the Child 243However, children seemed to approach activities with a “work is aboutwhat you want, play is about what I want” perspective. Children’s ideasabout work and play seemed in part to reflect their ideas about ownershipof those activities. Children noticed their own intentions more often in playactivities, and they seemed to “own” the decision-making related to playactivities. Children demonstrated that they were aware of the dominant roleof 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 possibilitiesfor ways to engage in playing, or it may be that the extraordinary effortthese pursuits require from young children precludes playful aspects fromentering into them. If so, are there not ways in which reading, writing, andmath 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 involvingreading, writing, and math meet children’s criteria for play-that is, bevoluntary, without evaluation (either positive or negative), without a greatdeal 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 asgames (Kamii & DeVries, 1980), that fit the play criteria and make use ofchildren’s existent abilities in reading, writing, and math.The teachers in this study may have had mistaken perceptions of howchildren experience work versus play. Why might a teacher such as Mrs.Samuels equate play with “messing around” or a teacher such as Mrs. Kipwant to sidestep the work emphasis in her classroom? Their ideas areperhaps not at all uncommon among those teachers who do provideclassroom play opportunities. Play, spontaneous and free, is clearly reveredin early childhood circles. That free play is essential is an early childhoodtruism.~though early childhood teachers may routinely set a time apart forplay in their programs, they often do other things during this time. Mrs. Kipand Mrs. Samuels did not play in play time. Instead, they supervised workprojects or took care of tasks such as materials preparation or bulletinboards. These emphases match those reported for British preschool teachers(Bruner, 1980). Bruner reported that “a high proportion of adult-initiatedinteraction with children was given over to the boring stuff of petty management” (1980, p. 61). Katz (1994), citing Bruner’s finding, says this is alsoher impression from observations in early childhood centers across theUnited States.Should teachers play in play time? Will this change for children whatthey experience as play, in effect eliminating play and creating more work?244 WingBergen’s (1988) continuum illustrates clearly how classroom activities shiftfrom play to work as the elements of internal control, internal reality, andinternal motivation are reduced. She suggests that as teachers take a moreactive role in play, the activity shifts from “free play” to “guided play,”“directed play,” and “work disguised as play.” However, if play time is tofacilitate 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 intendedby Mrs. Kip and Mrs. Samuels, it may be necessary to incorporate a bitmore teacher involvement. Because these teachers did not involve themselves in children’s play, it is unclear from this study whether children willstill perceive “guided play” activities as play. It may be possible forteachers to preserve all of the elements of play, yet to facilitate children’sdevelopment by playing alongside and with them. This is an area for furtherinvestigation.The results of this study do not suggest that teachers should eliminatefree play or work activities from their programs. Nor do they suggest thatteachers should never attempt to make work playful. It may not be problematic that children persist in their distinction between activities as workand as play. This framework may simply be a consequence of the emphasesin and organization of American earfy childhood classrooms. It may betime to honestly acknowledge to children that some activities are workrather than attempting to couch required, directed tasks in the language ofplay. It is, perhaps, our challenge to create programs in which children experience work activities with the same personal interest, stimulation, andownership that they seem to experience in play. According to Bergen (1988),Rather than arbitrarily disguisingthis type of play, educators can discuss withchildren how work can sometimes be made more interesting by treating it asplay and can allow the children to decide how they can do this. Since creating achallenge is something children know how to do, they can decide on playfulways to learn required tasks. (p. 173)Acknowledging that the “in-between” and work activitites are work-likefor clearly definable reasons, and allowing children some input into how tomake potentially dull or difficult activities more play-like may provide themwith some of the ownership that was typically lacking in their perception ofwork activities.There are other models available. In recent years, we have learned a greatdeal about the practices at Reggio Emilia, Italy, which contrast markedlywith ours. Katz (1994), for example, tells us that in her visits to the ReggioEmilia classrooms, she observed the frequency with which “adults’ andchildren’s minds meet on matters of interest to both of them” (p. 29). Theprovision of “totally” free play time, with little adult intervention, seemsnot to be as sacred to these Italians as it is to Americans. They insteaddevote large amounts of time to merged pIay/work activities.Play is Not the Work of the Child 245As teachers and children are together engaged in the exploration of emergentthemes and projects, we are told: “The teacher. . .sometimes works ‘inside’the group of children and sometimes ‘just around’ them” (p. 152). “Theteacher studies the children, provides occasions, intervenes at critical moments,and shares the children’s heightened emotions (emphasis mine)” (p. 152). Itis perhaps in this latter area that American teachers differ most. Americanteachers watch children play, but seldom join their explorations during playin 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 forAmerican early childhood educators? What if teachers became co-playersand co-investigators with children during their play and their work? BothPiaget’s and Vygotsky’s work provide the theoretical basis for greater involvement. Piaget (1973) emphasized that teachers must become immersedin 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 toserve, 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), “Wefeel that the teacher must be involved within the child’s exploration, if theteacher wants to understand how to be the organizer and provoker ofoccasions” (p. 153).The subtle messages to children in such a classroom context may be quitedifferent. Children may develop an entirely different framework for making sense of what they do in school; a framework that brings the intentionsof the teacher more closely in line with the perceptions of the children. 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