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In the last blog post They Wrecked It I talked about the lengths we educators sometimes go to set up beautiful, engaging play spaces. This led to some discussion about whether we actually need to “set up” the playspace and reminded me of the concept of “Deconstructed Role Play” which seems to be far more popular (or at least by that term) in the UK than in Australia. The basic concept of a deconstructed role play space is to support the ever changing creative thinking and play of children. Think about the child who has spent all morning on the way to preschool, thinking about how they would like to be an astronaut and play in the rocket ship area that is set up in their room at the centre. She arrives, ready for her next mission and is dismayed to find that the rocket ship, with its dials and space suits, has been replaced by a hairdressing salon. She doesn’t want to play hairdressers and spends the next 20 minutes wandering the room aimlessly. 

Now think about it differently. The same child arrives ready to play “spaceships” and walks back into the dramatic play space where they are numerous baskets featuring various props, open ended materials, boxes and creative play items. She can build her own rocket ship, she can use fabric to create a space suit. Her friend, who doesn’t want to play this game finds the hairdressing prop basket and starts her own game. Side by side they engage in their own dramatic play, at times merging their games to create something altogether new. By providing open ended play materials and environments, we enable children to choreograph their own play. 

Getting back to last weeks post, I was primarily referring to playscapes or small world play. Why can’t these be deconstructed too? Why do we need to 
“set them up” for children? I often wonder if sometimes when setting up these elaborate scenes we inadvertently create an expectation of “this is how this should look” or “this is how we play dinosaurs”. 
A plain table with props for jungle play – a basket of bark, seed pods and rocks, a small container with blue stones that could become “water”, a plant, a book for inspiration and research and a basket of animals. Children can set up and play in a way that suits them. 

When we provide children with opportunities to set the scene themselves, the play that unfolds is amazing. It often goes in a direction completely different to our expectations. They might ask for additional props, they may bring items from other parts of the room. We don’t need to show them how jungle play “should look”, we can simply provide the props, the space and the time. Children don’t need to be taught to play, but we have to accept that their play might look very different to what we had imagined! We need to let go!

We could also take it one step further and provide a variety of props for a variety of play scenes. Why have just jungle play because three children are interested in it? If we deconstruct the small world play, how would that look? One (or more?) blank tables, baskets of props and open ended materials… total and utter freedom of play!
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