Module D2

Playing Responsively

By playfully following a child’s lead, new ways of being emerge for both the adult and the child.

Participants continue their exploration of ways to respond to children by studying play and responsive following in that context. They define play, distinguish what it means to play responsively with children, find ways to play with different children, formulate their own guidelines for adults playing with children, and demonstrate how their own playfulness can open new ways of being for young children.


Each of the 6 investigations invites the participants to closely observe an aspect of their experience with young children, as parents, caregivers, or teachers. They observe children’s actions or the adult’s actions and draw conclusions from what they find out. Participants bring these representations of events in their lives with children back to the weekly discussion group, where they share their own experience and listen to similar experiences of others.

1. Concept of Play

Participants play together, as adults, with an open-ended material, such as blocks, building toys, rolled up newspaper and masking tape, etc. Then, under the leadership of the Guide, outline the sequence of events in the development of play from the first moment to later elaboration and look at the forces that support and sustain play as well as the forces that weaken or destroy it.

Assignment: Watch carefully this week how children play to see if these conclusions fit with reality. See if it applies to what children do, what you do, and what other adults around you do together, too.

Reflection: After 20 minutes of sharing at the next meeting, the Guide records their thoughts in response to the question, “What did you notice about play?” Here are thoughts from one group. Children are learning life skills and people skills through play. I am surprised how consistent our definition of play was across different kinds of play activities. Play cannot be hurried. I was more aware of how everything seemed to have these components in it. Even adult planning day has these components.

2. Play Initiations

Assignment: The task is to clearly differentiate a play initiation from a play response. Collect five examples of actions of children in each of these categories: (1) initiated play actions, (2) responding play actions, (3) initiated play statements, and (4) responding play statements.

Reflection: After 20 minutes of sharing these results and talking about whatever comes to mind, participants are given a cartoon and asked to distinguish play initiations, non-play initiations and play responses.

3. Play Distribution

Assignment: Participants are asked to create a chart with all the children’s names on one side and the next 10 sessions with children across the top. The challenge is to play responsively with every child to distinguish the ability to respond in a way that playfully reacts to the initiations of the child as opposed to initiating actions in the hope the child will respond. Mark each day you are able to play responsively with a child. The goal is to find the blank boxes.

Reflection: Participants share their first week of data. Then the Guide compiles their responses to this question, “What did you discover?” Here are one group’s responses. Children like to play. I am the one that usually initiates play. I play with some children more than others. Some children don’t trust adults or have high anxiety. Many children didn’t play with me. It can be a challenge to hang in there when it drives you nuts. I want to be more present. I want to allow myself to have fun.

Assignment: Continue this exploration for another week.

Reflection: “What did you discover this time?” Here are one group’s responses. I had a lot of fun. When I played, the children were very likely to come back to me for more. It is difficult to play with some children, either because of the way they played, or because they did not play at all. My day improved. My day was better. I leave work happier. I could see more of their natural character.

4. Play Project Exploration

Assignment: The challenge of this module is to discover how being a responsive play partner opens up something new for a child that enables he or she to live in new ways. The task now is to work on deciding upon a child to use as your project. You are to explore this task and return next time to share what seems difficult for you. You also are to take photographs that show what you are considering before you do anything about it.

Reflection: Participants share for a longer period than usual before the Guide asks, “What are you noticing about your explorations?” Some responses: It can be a real challenge to get some children to initiate play. We have to break out of a mold to do it. I found more responsiveness from the class in general at other times of the day when I had to be a “teacher” again. I face the more challenging children now, kind of scary, but it could be fun.

5. Documentation

Assignment: No one can tell you what the missing development is in your work with children; only you can see it. No one can tell you how to change it; you are the only one who gets to be you. The task is to continue working on the most challenging aspect of your relationships with a child and record how that story unfolds day by day. Bring whatever documentation you have to the next session.

Reflection: Participants share about their child. The Guide asks two questions. “What are the problems in documenting?” “What did you find that worked?”

6. Values

Assignment: As you continue your exploration on your project, using responsive play to lead children into new ways of being, you may become aware of problems. Sometimes it may be inappropriate to play. Sometimes you may not be enjoying it. Other problems may arise, too. Come prepared with examples of the problems you are having.

Reflection: Participants have more time to share about their project and the problems they are having. The Guide then asks, “What guides a decision about when it is appropriate to play? When do you play? When do you not play?” One group said this. I can play when there is a child who seems unable to join in, when a child is sad or uncomfortable, when I want to redirect things, or to extend involvement at a time when the child seems about to lose it. I don’t play when the children are happily engaged already, when I become the focus for play, when I feel surrounded, or when it gets too wild or crazy.

Performance of Understanding

7. Project of Understanding

Assignment: Prepare a presentation that can tell the story of how your responsive playfulness enabled a child or a group of children to step into a new way of being. The audience for this story is this group, the child, the child’s family, and other adults who care. It must meet for criteria: (1) you can show how it used to be a certain way; (2) you employed responsive playfulness, not leading; (3) the child or children changed for the better; (4) you share it with us first and later with the child or children.

8. Expression of Understanding

Assignment: Your task is to communicate the deep significance of this work in any way you wish. You can use any expressive medium to convey, in your unique way, your understanding of how play enables the emergence of the best in people.

Click here for examples of Projects of Understanding for D2 Module

Click here for examples of Expressions of Understanding for D2 Module

Next D2 Projects