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3 Questions to Stop Asking A Child Engaged in Play.

I have written and spoken about the concept of Interaction vs Interference before and while many educators agree in theory, putting it into practice can be a little tougher. We tend to get caught up in our need to know what is happening, our desire to document learning or even our need to make ourselves appear like we are busy and "working hard". It might be a hard sell , convincing a manager that when you are sitting watching... you are working. You are listening, observing and researching. But it is important  that we step back out of  children's play and learn to read the room. Children often give us very clear indicators of whether they want us involved in their play or not. We need to look for and respond to these. 

When children are playing, we might have countless questions. But do we really need the answers? Sometimes the questions should remain questions. Or they should be questions that we ask ourselves, questions that spark our curiousity about play and prompt us to observe more, listen more and wonder more. 

So, with that in mind... here are three questions that we need to stop asking children engaged in play:

1. What are you doing?

If a child wants you to know what they are doing… they will tell you! While this question is often well-intentioned, with educators wanting to know more about the child’s play and thought processes, it can lead children to question if they are doing the right thing, to wonder if their play is appropriate or “normal.” We also need to think about what we hope to garner from asking this question, that we wouldn’t be able to learn from simply observing.


2. Can I play?

If a child wants you to play… they will ask you! When we ask a child to play, we send the message “you need me.” In fact, children don’t need us, yet it has become an ingrained belief that they do and many feel that they need an adult to drive or guide the play. So why do children feel that they need us to play? Because from birth, we have “entertained” them. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t engage with infants or young children (this is very important for language development and strengthening bonds) but we do need to make time for all children to be “left to their own devices” so that they feel confident in their ability to play!


3. Can I write that down/take your photo?

I am all about consent. Children have a right to decide if they are photographed or have their personal words and ideas recorded. But, we need to be mindful about how we do this. Recently I watched a child working with pipes and water, connecting them on a hill to make a water run. He worked carefully and thoughtfully and silently. Had I stopped him to ask “can I take a photograph?” I would have interrupted his thought process and ultimately, his play. Instead, I took a few photographs from a distance (the benefit of a DSLR and a long lens!) and after he had finished I showed him the photographs and asked if I could keep them and use them or if he wanted to delete them. Most children are indeed delighted to have their ideas and voices recorded, yet others prefer not to, so it is important to find a way to seek consent, yet not disrupt the play. In your own setting, you may have the opportunity to ask children prior to play what they would prefer, giving them the option to say “please don’t take photos of me.”


It’s not always easy to step back and let children play. As early childhood educators we are usually taught to engage, to question, to play. There is definitely a time for this, but children also need a LOT of time to play. They need long, uninterrupted blocks of play. They need time and space to think and create. They need opportunities to make decisions and choices in their play. They need freedom to play how they want to play. They need to feel like they are not under the watchful eye of adults!

While not asking questions might seem counter-intuitive or may leave you wondering “but how will I know what is happening, how can I document the learning, how will people know that I am doing my job?” staying quiet and tuning in to your observational skills (looking and listening) can actual reveal even more about children and their play! 


To expand your thinking about play... check out our Pondering Play Mini Course


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