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!
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!