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The role of the teacher during free play in preschool Breen, Patricia Edith


The purpose of this observational study is to examine the role of the teacher during free play in preschool. The specific objectives are to document: the duration and extent of supervisory, facilitating and housekeeping duties; various aspects of teacher-child interactions such as reason, location, language mode, duration of the exchange including number and gender of children; and to determine if boys and girls are equally demanding of the teacher's time and attention. The nature of unsolicited attention is recorded and the teacher's responses to given situations are noted to determine if gender differences exist. Successive naturalistic observations of six different teachers were undertaken at four separate preschool centres in Vancouver, Canada. An attempt was made to seek a representative sample of both teachers and schools. Extensive field notes documenting the teachers' duties, behaviors and interactions with the children provide the observational data. This data, comprising some thirty hours of observations, was analyzed and interpreted with reference to the above research questions. The data shows that these six teachers spent an average of 80 percent of the free play period in classroom management. That is, they were predominantly involved in housekeeping, facilitating and supervising the play environment interspersed with momentary and fragmented interactions with children. The remaining 20 percent of the time, the teachers were engaged in sustained interactions (over 2 minutes) with the children. The sustained interaction data shows distinct variations along gender lines. While language facilitation was the main reason for teacher/child interactions, definite gender variations were reflected in the reasons for interaction, the nature of the verbal exchanges, as well as the duration and boy/girl ratio of the interaction episodes. When the context of the interactions was considered it was apparent that approximately one third of the teacher/child interactions were in the area of art activities, while the teachers' presence in other areas of the play environment was significantly less well represented. The study concludes that the teacher's role during free play was predominantly one of managing the environment. This preoccupation with making sure that the play scene proceeds smoothly and harmoniously left little remaining time for more educationally valuable interactions with the children.

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