Vygotsky’s Play Plan Guide for Parents & Teachers

As a parent & educator, I believe some interactive play – as a “peer” participant in child-directed play is important. Just as important, however, is the ability to be an “outside” observer without undue interference and/or influence. 

At times, too, the role of  a resource guide & facilitator is necessary to encourage a child’s growth, development & use of her/his “mental tools”. Monitoring your child’s learning through his/her successes, failures, challenges, and boredom can help you decide when to do what: play, observe or guide.

Your role as a learning guide & facilitator will provide your child with the tools needed to independently work through the “growing pains” of maturity, responsibility & productivity.

Lev Vygotsky, a behavioral psychologist, believed make-believe play was a critical part of learning in early childhood’s growth & development, specifically during the ages of 4 and 5 years old. 

In 1993 Drs. Elena Bodrova & Deborah Leong began working together to apply Vygotsky’s teaching methods in Preschool & Kindergarten classrooms.

Tools of the Mind“,  a program based on his work,  encourages children to take responsibility for their own learning through personal attention, sensation, perception, and memory in an “intentional and purposeful way.” These “self-regulated” behaviors coupled with interactive & skillful parents/teachers can become the building blocks for all elementary mental, or cognitive, functions.

Five Tools of the Mind

Their “5 Tools of the Mind Curriculum” approach presents a process for:

  • opportunities in language growth & development, self-correction & cooperation
  • make-believe play scenario activities to promote self-regulation physically with specific regards to intention, attention, memory & reflection

According to Bodrova & Leong’s applied classroom research, the results & benefits of this Play Behavioral Program are achievement, engagement & social competence. The growth in a child’s development are:

  • Learning becomes more self-regulated.
  • Attention & concentration becomes more focused.
  • Memory becomes more deliberate & reliable.
  • Language & speech increase & become more interactive.
  • Task orientation becomes more positive & productive.
  • Peer interactions become more cooperative & constructive.
  • Growth occurs in Literacy & Mathematics.

In the Kindergarten setting, self-regulation of attending, remembering, planning, monitoring & reflecting will improve your child’s academic skills.

Play Plans

When I, unwittingly, used Vygotsky’s make-believe play theory with my preschoolers during the years at my Home Day School, we just talked about the “pre-play plans”.

“What/who are you going to be today?”

“How are you going to do that?”

“What toys/tools/materials are you going to use?”

The “post conference” was informal, too.

“What happened during your ‘ job’ as a ___________today?”

“Did you need:_______, ________, _________. etc?”

“How did those tools/toys help you?”

“Did you have to get / need other things?”

If the same make-believe scenarios happened the next day, which they usually did, I would just observe or maybe pretend along with the children.

“Hello! May I speak with the doctor?”

“Help! Help! My cat is in the tree!”

“Are you serving sandwiches today at your restaurant?”

When my young architects used up all the wooden blocks for their structures, they pulled out the Duplos, Legos, Lincoln logs, nature treasures, action figures and, even, kitchen tools to continue their work-play. I took pictures to preserve their masterpieces for future ideas, though they were seldom needed as a reference…. Post-conference- “Tell me about it!” “What’s happening here?”

The Structure of the Vygotsky Model

The Vygotsky model requires a little more structure.

His pre-conference play plan needs a drawing or writing on paper answering “I am going to play/be a _________________. I will (activity list) and use (tools/toys/props).”

This stated plan helps a child monitor her/his performance about who & what s/he is doing. It can be changed with other playmates’ input as play continues.

The results of this pre-planning:

  • help him/her stay within the make-believe role, which is critical for self-regulation development
  • provide her/him with self-monitoring opportunities, which is important for goal setting & meeting
  • form a basis for learning how to adapt, change and/or modify, which encourages critical thinking & problem solving
  • set up specific rules for prediction and working with others

During the post-conference, you have the opportunity to be a tour-guide for your child visit, making sure possibilities are explored and solutions are discovered without too much intervention.

  • Ask what your child experienced & learned.
  • Focus on the “pretend” aspect of his/her play.
  • Share your short “instruction” in an informal, relaxed environment.
  • Praise effort, not smarts.
  • Encourage persistence & focus.

Learning Plans

 Your 4 year-old has been building her/his veterinarian practice for weeks now! It’s the talk of the town and Dr. DooLittle wants to partner up. 

During some of your conferences with the good doctor, you’ve tried to entice him/her with the exciting make-believe worlds of agriculture, floral design, engineering, nutrition….. Kind of related, right?!?

It’s time to expand your young learner’s horizons.

“Let’s look at your performance! “(Have a mental rubric ready: great/good/needs more work.)

  • Set/met goals
  • Monitor progress
  • Evaluate performance
  • Celebrate work products
  • Remember activities
  • Reflect on learning
  • Future goals to accomplish
  • Achievement expectations

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