Teaching independence in a play-based classroom

It is through play that our students practice and master new skills; put into action their own ideas; figure out how to solve problems; work in cooperation and collaboration with each other, and the list goes on. Play is the means by which real and meaningful learning takes place but there is a need for the teacher to be an active participant in the play-based classroom as well.

Play is the means by which real and meaningful learning takes place.

So what is the teacher’s role in a play based classroom? What can the teacher do to support play without taking over play? These are important questions so I thought I would share a little bit about what the teachers do in our classroom during the first few weeks of school.

Our primary focus is to promote independent thinking and doing

Right from the first day of school, one of our top priorities is to spend time teaching our students about our classroom and helping them understand how to do things in the classroom all by themselves. Things like putting a backpack in a cubby, finding their name on the wall to answer our Question of the Day, washing hands, and putting artwork away in the drying rack.

As we take the time to teach the children these different processes, we can begin to take a step back and let the children put into practice what they are learning. Some of these processes take time for the children to catch on to but within a few short weeks, our students are already getting the hangs of things.

Our focus on building independence isn’t to control or restrict our students but rather to build competence and confidence so that the children can gradually be given complete freedom to explore all that we provide around the classroom.

As our students build their understanding of the classroom set-up, daily routines, classroom materials, and the different processes we provide, they begin to come together as a community and care about each other and the classroom too. Our goal in teaching is to ultimately remove ourselves from being needed but first, we have to spend time cultivating a constructive sense of ownership and independence.

We support constructive play by giving our students the need-to-know information about their role in the classroom. As the children build their understanding and skills then we take a step back and observe where we are needed next.

There is nothing more rewarding than seeing our students take ownership over the things and the processes we provide around the classroom.

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By |2018-11-02T10:55:35+00:00September 19th, 2017|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Kathy September 21, 2017 at 7:40 pm - Reply

    I noticed that the children don’t wear paint shirts to paint, how do you handle parents who get upset if their child gets paint on their cloths?

    • Deborah Stewart September 22, 2017 at 12:03 am - Reply

      Hi Kathy, My parents are told before entering school to send children in clothing that can get messy. But we do offer paint smocks for the children if they wish to use them. Most just don’t like to wear them. I also explain to my parents that when the children get concerned about keeping clothing clean, they are less apt to invest in the processes I provide because they are too worried about making a mess on their outfit. My parents totally get that. I do however try to be considerate and if we are doing something overly messy, put paint shirts on. Also – I have noticed over the years that when the children do not have smocks, they begin to self-regulate how they paint and pay attention to what they are doing so much better because they will walk around with it for the rest of the day. So even though we don’t wear paint shirts, my students really don’t get all that messy.

  2. Vanessa Doughty October 5, 2017 at 6:48 am - Reply

    Deborah, I love the look of your site! Is there any way to add a function where you can go forward or backward from a post? Sometimes I like to browse through old posts, and don’t always have a specific subject to search for.

    • Deborah Stewart October 17, 2017 at 5:29 pm - Reply

      Hi Vanessa,
      If you go to https://teachpreschool.org/blog/ there is that feature at the bottom of the page. I will see if we can get it added within each post.

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