The other day I was walking around one of the PreK classrooms I work with as the teacher sat in the middle of the room pulling students, one at a time, to work on some handwriting.  Meanwhile, the rest of the kids were engaged in play around the periphery of the room.  In the library, there was a little girl sitting on a bean bag, holding an old phone up to her head.  She wanted to chat but didn’t seem sure how to start the conversation.  I sat down in the beanbag next to her.

Me: Would you like to call me? (I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket)

Girl: Sure!  Ring, ring, ring, ring!

Me: Hello?  This is Mr. Halpern.

Girl: Hi, Mr. Halpern, do you think you could go to the store?

Me: Sure!  Oh here comes M (another little girl had heard our chat and wandered over).

Girl: Can she go with you?  I need milk, coconut oil…

Me: Hang on, M – we need to write this list down for the store!  (M runs off and returns with paper and marker, grabs a hardcover book and starts writing)

Me: What was that again?

Girl: Eggs, Apples, Milk, coconut oil – it’s good for dry lips, and pizza – please bring a pizza home for dinner!

Me: M and I are on it!  Is that it?

Girl: Yes, bye-bye!

Me: Bye!

And with that, we had practiced oral language skills, concepts about print, handwriting, and oh yeah, had fun playing!

Once I planted the seed of how this telephone play might look, another little boy came over and I handed him (carefully) my phone and the conversation took off in another direction (a doctor’s appointment, a scary shot…) and I walked away with a smile.

If you’re lucky enough to work with PreK or Kindergarten, find ways to coach into play when you can.  Besides having a blast with your students, you’ll gently lift the level of play, boosting important skills along with all the fun.  Play is the work of our littlest learners after all!