To date much attention has focused on teachers' roles when young children are behaving and playing indoors, within classrooms and child care settings. Perry's book is timely and welcome, as it seeks to show the importance of outdoor play and to provide a way to understand teachers' roles. Not only helping to fill a gap in the literature, this valuable scholarly volume comes at a time when recess and playground activities are widely misunderstood, unappreciated, and sometimes threatened with elimination. Perry successfully generates useful concepts and terms as she explains the strengths of outdoor play, and elucidates some important teaching roles and strategies.
Perry's work emanates from her years of teaching and researching at the Harold E. Jones Child Study Center at Berkeley, California. Her disciplined inquiry entailed close collaboration with teachers, children, and early childhood teacher educators/researchers. Part enjoyable and insightful ehtnography, and part thoughtful analysis, the book succeeds in its mission of developing a framework and language for teachers to better grasp the goings-on in the play yard, here occupied by a group of four and five-year-olds attended to by their teachers Karen and Ken. The play yard, according to Perry, is developmentally a very important place: here, youngsters' personal needs and desires often collide with the interpersonal constraints of peer and teacher cultures. How much turbulence occurs, and how it affects ontogenetic trajectories, depends to an important degree on teacher planning, observation, and intervention.
Sandwiched between an introductory chapter on outdoor play and two concluding chapters on teacher strategies and the social-cultural organization of the play yard, four chapters are devoted to conveying the qualitative evidence that serves as "grist for the mill" of higher order reflection and analysis. Videotaped and field note observations of four distinct play episodes are organized into initiation, negotiation, and enactment phases, followed by an interpretive review section. Teacher interviews represent the voices of Karen and Ken as well. These chapters include engaging portrayals of the observed play yard events, keen analytic commentary, and useful cross-reference within the book as well as to relevant citations in the extant literature. Particularly edifying are Perry's apt use of contributions from classical scholars such as Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, George Herbert Mead and the Opies, in addition to concepts from contemporary research. These four chapters set up the fruitful closing discussion and synthesis within chapters six and seven.
Perry asserts that in the play yard teachers should seek to promote: (1)autonomous peer play (which fortunately is not a problem for many young children); (2)focused pretend play; and (3)autonomous peer play of long duration that uses cognitive and social skills to keep the game going. The second goal uncritically assumes a Western perspective on the value of pretense over reality-oriented activity. The sixth chapter discusses teacher strategies that support these goals-both indirect coordination of the ecology of the play yard, and direct behavioral intervention. Perry presents and explains a flow chart depicting teachers' decision-making processes during self-directed play. These schemes are cogent, tie together diverse ideas, and well connected to the play episode data presented in the earlier chapters. Perry uses the episodes well to illustrate how teachers can facilitate the three goals listed above. For example, Ken's organizing behavior in setting up the play ecology of the sandpit in chapter four "The Dam Is Breaking" invited the children to enter an imaginary place. His restoration of the dam walls prolonged the episode, and his use of the play tutor role followed by the spectator role further sustained the children's rich social pretense.
The final chapter on the social and cultural organization of the play yard frames the data by analyzing events from the perspectives of the peer culture and of the teacher culture. Perry concludes, among other claims, that her study illustrates how teachers and children continually negotiate meaning within the context of peer play. One specific recommendation for teachers is how to mediate peer conflicts. If possible, teachers should intervene in an indirect, pretense mode compatible with the children's play episode, and not overtly express teacher culture concerns ( such as concern for their children's physical and psychological safety). The teacher should address the children in their transformed play state (through children's make-believe roles, objects, themes, and situations) without qualification or reference to reality. By keeping the discourse at the pretend level, the teacher validates and accepts the children's perspectives and actions. This less intrusive manner, termed conferring indirect acknowledgement, was seen to work well in the study when there was a breakdown in play, usually due to a violation of peer culture norms.
The audience for this book is primarily teacher educators and researchers in child development and early childhood education. There are several arenas this book does not address: comprehensive coverage of teacher roles relating to children's play outdoors; treatment of gender differences, ethnicity, or the play of children over a wider age range; motor skills; special needs children; or how to incorporate math lessons on measurement in the play yard. This books is devoted to how outdoor play with teacher involvement can serve peer culture and the development of social competence during the early years. This sharp focus is one of the book's strengths, but some might say it is also a limitation. Certainly more work on teaching strategies and the roles of the teacher with respect to young children and the outdoors is needed and can be expected in the years ahead. This book sets a gold standard for high quality writing, research, and scholarship.