Meet Our New Dirctor: 

Victoria Dougherty

Dayspring Christian Preschool is so excited to welcome Victoria Dougherty as our new Director.  Victoria taught with us last year and has moved into the director position.  She is doing a wonderful job already encouraging both students and families as they begin preschool.  

As a part of her transition as the Director, she is continuing her education.  In a recent class she wrote a paper highlighting an educator.  Below you can read Victoria's paper on Vivian Gussin Paley.

Drama in the Classroom: 

Spotlight on Vivian Gussin Paley

By: Victoria Dougherty

Vivian Gussin Paley was a fierce advocate for the importance of play in the classroom. As schools began to cut back on free play opportunities, focusing instead on standardized testing and academic achievement, Paley recognized the absolute necessity of play.

“We call it play. But it forms the primary culture in the classroom. Fantasy and storytelling are the abstract thinking of the young, carrying a deeper sense of reality than could any form of adult thoughts.” -Vivian Gussin Paley

Paley was born January 25, 1929, in Chicago. She earned her Ph.B. from University of Chicago in 1947 and her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Newcomb College in 1950. She taught in New Orleans followed by Great Neck, NY before earning her master’s degree in Education from Hofstra University in 1965. She joined the Laboratory Schools in 1971 and remained there until her retirement in 1995. Paley wrote a total of 13 books describing her experiences in early childhood education and the need for fantasy play in the classroom.

She felt that allowing play in the classroom creates community and intimacy that must be present before educators can move on to other lessons. She outlined how children are able to work through social issues through play because the children could envision new roles for themselves and others. This helped the children to learn to have open minds.

She found great value in observing children’s fantasy play. She said, “in each episode [of play], one can intuit a child’s individual approach to the principles underlying fairness, friendship, fear, story-telling and personal history.” Paley recommended educators journal their observations of children’s play experiences.

Paley described fantasy play as an easy entrance into abstract thinking for young children. This fantasy play has the potential for so much rich language and for opportunities for children to develop important social skills. In fantasy play, children understand unique rules, roles, and expectations and they can explore real social issues within those constraints.

The core curriculum that Paley is perhaps best known for consisted of the dictated story acted out on a pretend stage. Paley wrote down the children’s stories, let them choose their own role, and then she chose the rest of the actors. The audience of students would sit around the stage (a masking tape rectangle on the floor of the classroom) and watch as the teacher acted as narrator/ facilitator and the children’s stories came to life. She believed that helping children create their own stories helped them take a step further than fantasy play into abstract thinking. Her use of storytelling and play-acting helped teach the children language skills, but also compassion and fairness. It taught how to make and keep friendships and how to handle emotions.

She once said, “The power of story trumps the power of authority.” She found there was no better way to connect with her students, to get through to them, to understand them than writing and acting out their stories.

According to the Museum of Play, her work “inspired decades of research that demonstrated the value of imaginative play in the classroom and beyond.” Those researchers, including Nicolopoulou, Cooper, and McNamee, analyzed the value of her storytelling and story acting pedagogy. Her books and theories played a strong role in promoting the role of storytelling and dramatization in early childhood education.

This incredible pedagogy gave children a voice in a way that they didn’t have before. Not only were their stories being told, but they were being brought to life the same day! Their stories, their concerns, their joys were being shared within their community of learners. Paley’s focus on story telling and fantasy play is just as relevant today as it was in the 1980s. The need to give students back the community and intimacy that is built through sharing one’s story and through engaging regularly in meaningful imaginative play is just as important today.

So, what can we as early childhood educators do with this pedagogy? Put it in place! Paley urged educators, if you have time for only three or four stories in a day, do three or four! If you have room for just one, do one! But tell the children’s stories.

Before my introduction to Paley, I recognized the importance of helping children write their stories, but it had never occurred to me to bring them to life in this way. It is my intention to incorporate this important opportunity for me to learn about my students and to help them learn about themselves and their peers.

Paley also taught us that you can’t say, “You can’t play!” Paley implemented this important golden, universal rule in her classroom. She went on to title one of her books after it. She felt that if students were permitted to exclude one another during fantasy play, they would go on to continue excluding the child that did not quite fit in throughout the rest of school and eventually throughout life. In fantasy play, there was always room for another. It is easier for children to envision a role for an outsider in an imaginary world with ever changing rules and boundaries than in the real world. By requiring the children to be inclusive in play, they learned to be inclusive in life.

This is an aspect of Paley’s philosophy that can be implemented in our classrooms immediately. Facilitating inclusion in fantasy play can make a real difference in students’ social development.

In light of this mindset, Paley also did not allow students to choose all the actors in his or her story. She explained that if students always surround themselves with the same few children for their stories, they will continue to surround themselves with the same few students in life. In the name of inclusion, she allowed the child to choose his or her role and then she selected actors from the class. She felt that just as there was no place for favoritism in the classroom, there is no place for favoritism in the play-acting. “Every person owns a place in the sun and a role in the ongoing story.”

Paley gave us a beautiful way to share our students’ stories. It is up to us to make the time to do so.