Questions About Real Play

It was a cold afternoon, and after being outside all I could think about was wrapping my hands around a warm cup of tea.  I put the kettle on, and suggested the kids set up their own tea party for afternoon tea too.

They brought their “kids” along (a baby and a bear), then set the table with a tablecloth and our Plan Toys wooden tea set.  The three of us enjoyed the role play as we made tea, fed the “kids” and helped ourselves to seconds. Such fun.

I left the real kids to it while I made myself a much needed real cuppa.  As I wrapped my cold fingers around the steaming cup, my teacher-mama brain wandered.  What would happen if I let the kids have real tea too? Would real tea enhance their play? Would it still be play if the teacups were filled with real tea?  Is it ok for the lines between real life and play to blur? When is play no longer play?  What IS play, anyway?

I whipped up some fairy bread* and poured two luke-warm cups of tea into little espresso cups.  Mr 2 ate the bread but wasn’t at all interested in the real tea.  He much preferred the freedom of the wooden cups – unconstrained by worries about spilling the liquid, exploring a new taste, or testing the temperature.  Pretend tea in pretend cups is very well behaved!  Miss 5, however, responded quite differently.  She sat straighter. Held her cup carefully. Sipped cautiously.  Made small talk.  Re-enacted the behaviour and conversation she has seen and heard while out at coffee shops with me.  Adding real tea took her play to a new level.

Was it still play? Maybe she was playing for real?  Or was she just really playing?


I don’t need answers to any of these questions.  Sometimes asking them is the important part. If as a mother and an educator I stop asking myself questions, then I have fooled myself into thinking I know all there is to know about the way children play, think and learn.

* For my overseas readers: Fairy Bread is a children’s party favourite here in Australia. It is simply a piece of buttered bread with hundreds-and-thousands sprinkled on top, and cut into triangles :-)