Don’t Let Your Kids Miss Out on Play (with Kisha Reid)

Early childhood expert Kisha Reid joins Janet in a lively conversation about the often overlooked and underestimated benefits of play-driven learning and how we can nurture these lifelong gifts for our children. Kisha and Janet discuss the magic of trusting children to discover and develop their passions and how our fears, misperceptions, and impatience as parents can get in their way. Reid weighs in on how to balance free play with lessons, sports, and other extracurriculars and whether parents should be concerned about summer learning loss. She also shares how in the early stages of her career she went against the grain by pioneering her play-based approach in traditional preschool environments.: “I was that teacher that everybody else looked at like, ‘What is wrong with her? She can’t control her class.’” Reid describes how she accommodates neurodiverse children in her program and her belief overall that “we need to shift the measuring tool that we use for some of our assessments of young children so that it’s inclusive of values and more diverse things.”

Transcript of “Don’t Let Your Kids Miss Out on Play (with Kisha Reid)”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today I have the pleasure of hosting Kisha Reid. Kisha’s been in the early childhood field for 28 years. She’s a true veteran and she continues to actively work in the classroom. She’s been a tenacious advocate of developmentally appropriate play-based education for young children for decades and has collaborated with Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Explorations Early Learning, and many, many more. She sits on the board of Defending the Early Years, which is an early childhood advocacy group. We’re going to discuss the importance of a play-focused early childhood for all of our children, why this matters, and should even take precedence over other kinds of learning.

Hi, Kisha, thank you so much for being with me today.

Kisha Reid:  Hi Janet, I am so excited to be here and talk with you.

Janet Lansbury:  Me too. I feel like I’ve known you for a long time because I’ve known of you and your work, and you’re quite renowned in my world. And you’re a veteran in this. I think we’ve almost been in this field the same amount of time, or maybe you’ve been in a bit longer even. So I can’t believe we’ve never talked before, but I’m really glad that we’re going to do it finally.

Kisha Reid:  Same here. I feel like I know you. I’ve been listening to your podcast and reading your work and I’m just honored.

Janet Lansbury:  Thank you. Well, I want to jump right in and ask what first lit your fire with the power of play. What made you first realize how important it was to support, protect, defend, and advocate for play in the early years?

Kisha Reid:  I think I have to go honestly all the way back to my own childhood, because that is where I learned who I was, like who I am. That’s where I learned how to take risks, how to be strong and powerful, and where I first learned that: Hey girl, you are smart. Leaning back on those times, those times when I can remember a particular time that my friends and I had ventured further away from home than we had ever ventured. I remember actually having this conversation with myself that I’m doing this without my mom. I’m going far away and I’m doing this exciting thing, and just the exhilarating feeling that I had, that sense of freedom going out on an adventure.

So that feeling is what I always want to evoke in other children because it started from there, and what’s in me… something grew, like just this sense of self and this strongness. I had proven to myself through my adventures outside and play, through my playing in the creek and climbing trees and running fast — it just kept solidifying within me how strong I am, how capable I am, how smart I am. And I took that with me all the way through school. When I felt like something was too tough or I wasn’t ready for something, I was reminded through those times that I was playing, that I can do it, that I’m strong, that I’m confident, that I’m creative. And I just fell back on that.

So when I began working with young children, I just had this playfulness because I’ve always pulled back there. But being in programs that were more traditional and not play-based, I had to keep reminding myself of those feelings and going back to that place so that I can make sure that I provided an environment that evoked that same feeling in young children. So it’s digging way back into myself to remember the importance of childhood.

Janet Lansbury:  And it sounds like even though maybe you weren’t encouraged in school to engage your play self into learning, that you were able to balance that at least beyond school. As you said, you would remind yourself: Oh yeah, I can do stuff. I’m capable. I’ve got all this in me. These people’s measurements aren’t as important or this is just as important and this is who I really am. That’s amazing that you’re able to do that because I think sometimes not all children are able to stay in tune with that side of themselves.

Kisha Reid:  Mm-hmm. Yeah. Working with young children in a more structured environment in the early part of my career, I found that I was always the teacher who had to close her door because we were the noisiest classroom and we let the kids get the messiest. We had the most open-ended materials and maybe we went off the schedule and maybe we stayed outside 30 minutes or 40 minutes longer than we were supposed to. So I was that teacher that everybody else looked at, like, “What is wrong with her? She can’t control her class.” And then a shift for me was that I began to share what I was seeing in young children with their parents and with other educators that worked with me. I did that through photography. I would take pictures of the children. Not having them freeze and smile at the camera, but really taking pictures of what they were doing, really trying to retell the experiences that they were having. I did a lot of writing that went with the photos and I would put them in the hallway.

So this started to create interest. Parents would stop and read it and look at it and start having dialogue around the photos and talking to their child about it in the hallway. And then I think other teachers started to notice: Oh, well, the parents are interested in that. I want them to stand around my door in the hall. So let me kind of figure out what this documentation stuff is. And we just started to value sharing what we knew and saw that children were capable of doing in our play environment, within my classroom, and with others. And it just started to catch on to other teachers in the building.

Janet Lansbury:  That’s so cool. It sounds like you were photographing the process, which is what does get lost when we might wonder as parents: What is my child learning? and then we’re not seeing any concrete example of that. They’re not coming home with a sculpture or a math worksheet. But what you did was find a way to capture the beauty and the much more powerful learning that happens in the process of a child engaging actively in learning, instead of just trying to make a result. That’s what real learning is, is being able to be in a process.

Kisha Reid:  Yes. And watching it unfold. There was a sense of excitement around that. So the language and the idea started to shift from, as you said, that product and, “Mom, this is what I made” to here is a more detailed conversation, a nuanced conversation, that’s back and forth about what we experienced.

Janet Lansbury:  And look how engaged they are.

Kisha Reid:  Yeah. And look how excited they are about the whole idea of learning something and doing something with their whole selves. It wasn’t just sitting at a desk and completing a task that an adult gave to them. It was the opposite. It was standing up moving and doing the things that their bodies told them that they needed to do.

Janet Lansbury:  I love that.

Kisha Reid:  So I was still working in traditional programs for a while even after that. I was always the sore thumb, always the person asking, “Well, why did we have to make everyone nap at the same time? Why can’t they play in the mud?” I was the teacher who took her kids to the creek, stayed all day, came back. I’ll never forget the day we came back and we were muddy. This was not the school for that, but we came back and I had the kids… we were all standing on the wall and I’m like, “All right, I’m going to hose you guys off so we can go in this building.” And right before I turned the hose on, the owner comes up and she gives me just this look. And I’m like, “Oh, don’t worry. We’re going to be clean when we go in the building.”

I had to make compromises, but nothing got in my way of allowing these children to play. If we had a math objective and I had to allow them to go into the forest and search for rocks and sticks and whatever and just document their experiences with those things and then fit it into the curriculum into what was required of me, I’d do that. It may be a little bit extra work for me, but it’s so much more meaningful. So I was just attempting to prove that it didn’t take a worksheet. In fact, real-life experiences were much more valuable.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. Because it’s not only what they’re learning there, but it’s that they’re learning to love learning and they’re learning how learning works and that they can do it. That thing about being capable again, that: Hey, I’m really good at this when I’m into it, because I’m doing it through my own interest. So yeah. I mean, you’re preaching to the choir here. I’m totally on board with this.

One thing you brought up also makes me consider if we do value this type of child-driven play and a lot of parents do, what gets in the way of us allowing this, do you think? As parents, as teachers, and as a society maybe, what are the barriers that are making it harder for us to allow children this extremely valuable, for life, experience?

Kisha Reid:  I think there are so many things. We have more parents who need to work now. We have smaller families. So grandparents may not be living with them. I grew up with my grandmother living with me. So somebody was always home. We were always outside, always able to play. Someone’s mother or grandmother was in some window watching us from somewhere. We knew all of our neighbors. It was just a slower pace. Everything was slower. We weren’t rushing off to soccer, gymnastics, or swimming. Our extracurricular was to go outside and play until the street lights come on.

So I think just the faster pace of life, the necessity for multiple parents to work find children and after-school programs more often. The high-stakes testing and pressure on academics and homework that has started to take up more of children’s lives than they ever did before. So before, you went to school, you came home, you did a five-minute coloring page or something, and then you were out the door. Now it’s so much more of a burden on young children’s time. They just don’t have as much time as they did before.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. I mean, even those after-school programs though could be designed the way you designed your program. They could still offer that. But I think just putting myself in the parent position and all the parents I hear from, we worry sometimes that our child is going to miss out on something else. Or maybe we think that we’re being neglectful or lazy just to let them go run off to the creek or go play or do their own thing. We feel like we’re being better parents to make sure that they’re getting all this enrichment. But it’s exactly what you said. That slow life, that simplicity is where the freedom is for them.

Kisha Reid:  Yes.

Janet Lansbury:  I guess there are worries, maybe as parents. And then the worries as parents get transmitted into the worries as educators. They’re picking up: “What if our child misses out on these windows for language learning, for music, taking an instrument, for sports? They’ve got to know what it’s like to be on a team.” We’re deciding all these experiences that we want to make sure that they have. And therefore we’re eliminating the most important things of all.

Kisha Reid:  Yeah, which is just time and space to be creative, to play, to make friendships with people in authentic ways. I think there’s a time and a place and an age for team sports and those different experiences. But I think when children are young, they don’t need that. “You like soccer? Okay, let’s go kick a ball. Let’s go to the playground, bring a ball, have some friends gather around and experience the idea of kicking the ball, running after the ball, playing with friends, creating new games.”

When I was young, we would arrange huge games of kickball and dodge ball and soccer and all these amazing things that we had to come up with the rules for. We had to organize the players. We had to go around and knock on doors and find the players. We had to negotiate to make teams. We had to decide who was in charge of who is out or who is in, who’s the ref. All of those things we did within our community of mixed-age group players.

So if you really think about it, the only thing that we were missing out on is having someone outside of the play, an adult, tell us how, where, when and what. But how much more valuable is it when you have to organize, you have to plan, you have to think, you have to negotiate? It’s just so much more valuable. And you still get the team play. You still get the collaborative play. You still get the excitement of a win. All of those things that people look to team sports to achieve.

Janet Lansbury:  I would even argue that it’s more conducive to being a team player because when you were saying that, it almost made me picture a lens where you’re all the way zoomed in and you’re just zoomed in, maybe as a parent on I want my child to get the skills in this sport and everything that they need to be on this team. I want to make sure because I’m a caring parent, that my child becomes the best soccer player they could be let’s say. And so we’re zooming in and we’re kind of getting this really myopic perspective on it. Rather than zooming way back out and saying: Oh my gosh, the learning that’s going on here is a million times more important!  And in that zoomed-in less our child maybe feels, “Oh, well, this kid is doing it better maybe and the coach likes them better. They’re getting a better position or they’re getting…” It’s not conducive to real team playing.

Kisha Reid:  And you know what? A lot of this is attached to academics because if you’re going to get into the best college, you got to have a resume. And it’s starting younger and younger where we’re looking for scholarships to such and such a school. So it starts to become this resume builder at such a young age. And it’s a lot of times attached to that academic piece, that ultimate plan of happiness that we, as a society, feel comes with checking off the boxes to getting into the right college so that you can get the right job, chasing after this happiness when really that comes from that sense of knowing, that following of your passions, that sense of community and belonging and all those things that can sometimes be missing when we’re chasing happiness.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah, exactly. Those life skills. Absolutely. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense that the rush to get kids ready for the next thing gets in the way with the thing, which is that they need to experience every stage of development ideally and to be trusted to know what they’re ready for and what they’re interested in. And yeah, I mean, it doesn’t really help a lot of parents either… because I do hear from many people who have their child in gymnastics or a music class or dance, and they get frustrated because their child doesn’t want to go. This might be a four-year-old, five-year-old child, or even a six-year-old child or older. The child doesn’t want to go, the child doesn’t want to go to practice. They won’t participate when they get there. It becomes this kind of feeling of failure, I think, for everybody. For the parents, for the child.

So it often doesn’t serve us as parents because now we’re putting ourselves into the situation where we’re frustrated because of our agenda when all we had to do was really let go of our agenda and trust a little bit more.

Kisha Reid:  But it is hard to be that parent who believes these things and have the child who’s not signed up for anything when everybody else in their preschool class is on the tee-ball team or is taking whatever the lessons are. It is hard to be that parent.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah, that peer pressure. I know. I hear that a lot from parents too, that they want to trust, but everybody around them, even family members or everyone around them, is giving them more doubt. So that’s why I love that somebody like you is out there. You’re so important because you’re a defender of this type of learning and you’re out there advocating. But yeah, it’s hard to hear that with all the other noise.

Kisha Reid:  My advice for a parent that feels that way, if everyone around you is… their child is in something or multiple things and you just don’t think it’s the best thing for your child but you also feel kind of left out of that, my advice would be to invite them over in your backyard if you have a backyard or a grassy area that you can find and just play. Invite them over for open-ended play so that your child now still has some experiences with these children and they’re doing something, but it is open-ended in its play. And the parent still has that social aspect.

Because I think a lot of it is social for the parents. The kids are in whatever the sport is. They’re playing or they’re practicing. And now the parents can sit back and hang out and chat and talk. There’s a social aspect of it for the parents as well. So I think that we can kind of meet a lot of the needs or a lot of the desires of everyone involved with a simple backyard — bring a snack, bring some balls, and play.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah, just a gathering. A weekly gathering.

Kisha Reid:  Just a simple gathering.

Janet Lansbury:  I would say also in my experience that a lot of these things that maybe we’re excited about as parents: the other parents are going to be there and my kids are all on this team or my kids are all in this dance program and that community feeling that I have, or maybe we loved dance as a child and we can’t wait to get our child in there, there were so many things like that. Even taking my child to an amusement park or story time at the library, I couldn’t wait. I was excited to have my child do that. I’d been trained with Magda Gerber who was so much about, “Let the child lead their development.” Trust them, trust them, trust them. Basic trust in them. But I would feel myself being like: Oh gosh, I want to do this now.

I would make myself wait almost always. There were a couple of times I didn’t. And then I learned. You know what? This would’ve been more fun just to be in our backyard this afternoon than to go to that puppet show with the marionettes where she had to sit there.” It wasn’t as great as when I was a kid, or maybe I was older and I was able to appreciate it more. But when we wait and we allow children to come into an experience, first of all, because they want to, because they’re eager, they’re ready and therefore you can trust their wish to do it, if we’re not the ones bringing it up at first. If it actually comes from them, you can really trust my child might be ready for this experience now.  And then maybe we’ve read a book about it, or they’ve gone to watch a practice or they have a real sense of what it is. And then they come into these experiences that we’re so excited for them to have with this grace and all these things that readiness offers that we can’t force.

And so many times that happened where I was like: Oh gosh if I would’ve taken them to this thing earlier, we did it earlier, they would’ve been striving, they would’ve been trying, they maybe would’ve been trying to please me on some level– 

Kisha Reid: I was going to say. Yep.

Janet Lansbury:  Because they feel they should. The idea of coming in at the top of an experience, so ready for it is just this magic, but it’s hard to wait. So I think our impatience sometimes can get in the way.

Kisha Reid:  It’s just this sense of them having an intrinsic motivation versus something that comes from outside of themselves. I had a student once, and she just… I mean, she was born to dance. She’s born to dance. She walked around like a dancer. She carried herself like a dancer. I have a dance background. So she literally had me. I mean, this child had me. She’d grab my arm. She started this at four years old. She would come to school with leotards, not just for herself, but for her friends as well. Ballet slippers. All the things. And she would tell me the different types of music that she wanted to listen to. “Slow. Or I want to listen to just pianos.” And she would say, “Okay, teach me.” And she would have me teach her. “Okay. All right. So what is this called?”

We would do a lesson as long as she wanted to do a lesson. And it was her. It 100% came from within this child that she wanted to do these things. I don’t know if… she probably had seen something or maybe an older sister who did ballet. I’m not sure what it was, but there was a deep interest within this child to move in this way. Even when she wasn’t dancing, she moved with grace and on her toes, stretching her arms out fully.

I don’t deny that.

When there’s an intrinsic passion, by all means, allow them to shower themselves in it, because play and dance are not the same as actually having to do an hour of standing still, waiting your turn, standing up straight. There’s a difference. There’s playing around with the passion until her development is in a place where she can do those things in a structured fashion. I don’t know. I just found it very magical to watch this child grow into her passion at such a young age.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. And sometimes they create their own dances, but then once they start the class, then now they know there’s a right way and a wrong way. And if I only can do it this way, then it actually makes them less free. A child like that…  you were able to follow her lead and do all of that, I can see how parents… Because probably everyone else would be telling them this too. They see this talent and they’re thinking, “You’d better get her in a class now or it’s going to go away somehow.” I think that’s another thing that gets in our way. We think something’s going to disappear. If our child seems interested in reading. Gosh, we might think we better start really teaching them because this might go away and then they’re going to lose this.

Or even with toilet training or something. Maybe their child goes on the potty once, so gosh, we better stay on this track. I’d better make sure that my child doesn’t ever use diapers again because otherwise, she’s going to lose something. So I think we can fear that too, as parents, that somehow our child is going to lose momentum on something. But that’s the opposite of what it’s really like when you’re ready for something. You can’t put it out, really. Or it’s hard to. I guess you can if it becomes not fun. I’ve also known a lot of children with that experience. Something was really fun for them, but then they took the course, maybe too early, or maybe it was the wrong kind of course. And then it wasn’t fun for them anymore.

Kisha Reid:  And they drop it. The passion’s gone.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. So it’s almost like the fear that we might have is in the opposite direction of what we should fear if anything. Not that we should fear anything as parents, but what we should care about protecting.

I love that your podcast was called the Defending the Early Years Podcast. So you’re a defender of play in the early years and you’re promoting developmentally appropriate play-based education. So what goes on in your programs? What are you doing?

Kisha Reid:  Almost everything we’re doing here is playing. When we’re getting dressed, it’s play. When we’re having lunch, when we’re reading stories, when we’re running around outside, it’s all play because they’re choosing to do it. They’re choosing how they do it. They’re choosing with whom they do it. It is creative and playful because they’re leading it.

I think one of the most important things about this place and about what I’m hoping for all early childhood settings is relationships. Just authentic relationships where you know each other, and flexibility so all these different diverse needs can be met. I think the difference between what we’re doing here as opposed to what a more traditional preschool setting does is we’re not getting them ready for our next step. It’s a byproduct of playing. It’s a byproduct of feeling safe and happy and confident in knowing yourself that you’re going to become ready for the next step, but that’s not our focus. Our focus is really on the right now and meeting the needs of right now and what that looks like through the process of inquiry and co-learning and trial and error and creativity.

We’re just playing and living together. We’re eating when we’re hungry. We’re napping when we’re sleepy. We’re crying when we’re sad. It’s a second home for them. It’s not what we as a society would picture a classroom being, but it is what we as a society should decide that a classroom is.

Janet Lansbury:  I love that. So what should parents do if they have concerns that seem valid that their child isn’t at a level that they should be at in some way, or they don’t seem to have their age-appropriate skills? Even a child with disabilities, or…

Kisha Reid:  We have had children that had diverse needs. We still have children that have diverse needs. All of them have diverse needs, but then we have children who have additional needs. I believe that all children need play. All children need freedom. All children need to express their personal passions. I like to think that we can meet those needs. There are cases and times where we need to call in extra help and we need to help parents identify support. For us there are so many local organizations that step in and help with assessment, supporting the parent to understand what the child is going through or where they are developmentally, or what special accommodations they need. And then we do our best to meet those needs.

We have, over the years, been able to observe children who are on the autism spectrum within our play-based program. I’ve worked at lots of places that have a strong belief that those children need structure and control and rewards, punishments, these things that we do not believe, I do not believe, typically developing children need, nor do I believe that children on the spectrum need those things within my program. None of these children need to be fixed. They all need to express who they are within. They all need to be met where they are, loved, and supported in order to have whatever their needs are met.

So if that is to be swinging or moving their body to get that self-regulation, then we figure out a way to put a swing in the classroom and lots of swings outside because we know that that is soothing and that child needs that.

Or if it’s heavy work — they need to really move those muscles and lift up heavy things — we fill our environment with those things. If it is special one-on-one support that they need, we look for the resources. And there are times when we don’t have the resources so we have to go outside of our program. For me, it’s the goal to support every parent that walks through the store in any way that I can. I don’t know all the answers for them, but I will sit with them until we find the answers for their individual child.

Janet Lansbury:  That’s wonderful because I agree with you that every child… I mean, you could even argue that a child with delays or disabilities deserves even more trust, more belief in them than the typical child. But yeah, they all deserve that.

What do you think about summer learning loss?

Kisha Reid:  Well, I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe that when you truly have learned something, deeply understood a concept, you don’t lose it. It’s like riding a bike. You just don’t lose it. I do believe you can forget things that were quickly taught to you, that you learned by memory, or that you were taught by rote, or that you learned for a particular test or that you had zero interest in but you had to learn it because it’s a part of the curriculum. Those things can surely be lost. In fact, they probably are almost pruned out as soon as the test is over, as soon as the school year’s over, as soon as the class is done. But you do not forget the things that you learn through your whole self when you’re using your — I just wrote a post on this — your mind, your body, your hands, your soul, your whole heart. You don’t forget that stuff. You just don’t forget it.

I always joke that sense, it ain’t common. We’re not all born with common sense, but so many of the things that are common knowledge that you never had to read about or ask questions about, or take a class about, that we just learn as humans. Like we observe people walking, we learn to walk. We learn to talk. We learn that some things are heavy and some things are light. We learned that when you throw something up, it comes down. All of these things that we keep gathering.

For example, if you watch children at play and they have multiple items, let’s say rocks because I observed this yesterday. They sort, they arrange. Sometimes they line them up like a graph. They count. They look at what’s different and what’s the same. They can classify them in lots of different ways. This is ingrained in them. They understand these mathematical concepts. They understand these similarities and differences in size and shape and all this. You can’t lose that because you know it.

Janet Lansbury:  Right.

Kisha Reid:  There’s a difference between remembering extrinsically because someone else is telling you you have to and seeking out knowledge.

My daughter, for example, wanted a piano in the house. Somebody was giving away a piano and I’m like, “Okay, we’re going to get this piano, put in the house.” And I said, “Well, I know someone who teaches lessons. Do you want me to sign you up?”

“No, I want to teach myself.”

I’m like, “Okay.”

My other daughter asked for a guitar. This is when they were preteens. And I said, “Do you want to take a class? You can take a class.”

And she said, “No, I’m going to teach myself. I will enjoy it more and I’ll be more proud if I teach it to myself.”

And I’m like, “Okay.”

And they taught themselves. It was a passion from what was in them. And they taught themselves at their own pace, in their own way.

I know I went way off your question.

Janet Lansbury:  No, that excites me too, because we all need to remember and just remind ourselves maybe every day of what you’re talking about. It’s gold. It’s the most powerful thing to be able to create your own learning and have all that autonomy. I mean, you could take lessons for years and never have that.

Again, it’s about the way we’re setting children up for life rather than college, I guess. Which is just so much more important. But yeah, to be trusted to create that learning, there’s no replicating that. And it’s just so much more powerful than any other kind of learning.

I love that they want to do that stuff. It’s so great.

And I also love what you said about “as soon as they’re done with the test, they lose that.” So, well, should summer learning be every day the parent has to drill them? Obviously not. Because if they’re just going to lose it, it wasn’t really embedded learning anyway. It’s not going to carry them into the world. It’s not going to do what it’s supposed to do. So why?

I have a post called “A Summer to Forget ” that’s about… maybe it’s okay for your kids to forget. How important it is to shift gears and have this more freeing, forgetting, but still learning new things the way that you’re talking about, teaching yourself things, or just learning what this certain kind of water in this pond feels like compared to the ocean. I mean this is-

Kisha Reid:  And learning who they are.

Janet Lansbury:  And learning who they are. Yeah.

Kisha Reid:  What would I do if no one was telling me what to do every minute of the day? That’s what I think summer should be about. Honestly, that’s what I think every day should be about.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah.

Kisha Reid:  But if summer’s the time that we’re giving children, then we need to give it to them.

Janet Lansbury:  I would give it after school too, like the way you describe for yourself that you had that.

But with that post or anytime I’ve brought up this idea, I get the response, “Well, that’s a privileged perspective.”

Kisha Reid:  Mm-hmm. I’m sad that that is a privileged perspective. I’m very sad that young children of color or children with a lower economic status aren’t seen to be able to have the same freedom. It upsets me because what I know about play and what I know about how much you actually learn and how far that will actually take you in this world and that sense of self that you’re going to develop, I know that every child, and in some cases especially the child that is not privileged, deserves that.

Janet Lansbury:  I agree.

Kisha Reid:  Part of what I want families to understand. I want to make sure that Black and Brown children are having access to play. I read studies about the number of words that children hear and that there are less words in this type of family and more words in that type of family. I just squint my nose up because I’m in a Brown family and there are so many words. And I’m around a lot of Brown families and there are so many words. I’ve grown up without many means, and there are so many words and so much dialogue and so many experiences. They may be different from the traditional White or American experience, but they’re rich. Listening to family stories and playing games with our families. And so I think that we just need to shift the measuring tool that we use for some of our assessments of young children so that it’s inclusive in values, more diverse things.

Janet Lansbury:  I couldn’t agree more. I think it comes from the same perspective that we’re talking about, that we want to help some group of children that we perceive as disadvantaged. We’re trying to help give them a step up, but that’s the wrong way to look at it because this is actually getting in their way and maybe creating a deficit in the kind of time that’s so much more valuable. These kinds of experiences children get from free play, they’re ultimately much more important for developing higher learning skills and self-confidence.

Back to the story you started about yourself, you actually have been able to stay in tune with yourself. And how confidence-building that was. I don’t think about that a lot for myself, but it’s actually true for me too. For us, it was dolls. My sister and I lived through our dolls. But what we learned about relationships and people and these stories that we created about these families…

I love Stuart Brown’s book (Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul). He talks about how as adults we can say where our talents come from. We can look back and see, Oh, that’s the way that I played. He goes into this whole thing about all these different areas. I looked at them, all that he suggested, and I thought, I’m none of those. But then I realized, Oh my gosh, “storytelling.” It’s a type of talent that’s developed through play. And it was what I was drawn to as a child. And it’s what I’m drawn to now, understanding the story, what’s behind this, what’s happening with these children in this family. Anyway. Yeah.

Kisha Reid:  It’s so deep, isn’t it?

Janet Lansbury:  It’s so deep. And it’s so much more fun as a parent too when we can just relax and trust a little more. Doing nothing is doing a lot. It’s healing when children can come home from school, even a center like you have which sounds so idyllic, and still come home and switch gears into this: You know, I just want to sit and look out the window or, I just want to, I don’t know, do nothing and just see where my mind goes.

Kisha Reid:  Yep. And I love to watch that. I love to just observe the children as they come in and see what’s going to spark their interests, what are they going to do, and where are they going to hang out. That to me… I just wait for that. I don’t put things out. We have our materials that are our materials. They know what’s there. And I just don’t know what’s going to come of it each day. I love to see where it goes and how it develops.

We’ve had balls in a basket in our classroom since the beginning of the school year. I don’t think I recall anyone ever touching them. The other day they had all the balls out and they arranged five different games with the balls. The games kept getting more intricate and involving other materials and rules. It was just so interesting to watch a group of three and four year olds get a spark for an idea from a material that’s so just simple and open ended and play for over an hour on their own, going through conflict and negotiation and figuring it all out. But everybody had one goal and it was to keep that play going. So I got to witness that and it’s amazing to see.

Janet Lansbury:  I’m totally with you on that. I love it with an infant, I love it with a toddler. I love it. As long as my kids will let me watch them, which unfortunately wasn’t that long. At around seven or eight, they were like, “Just stop watching me” with the doll house or something like. Oh my gosh, I get goosebumps, I love it so much. Parents could maybe enjoy the experience so much more if we took a little pressure off of ourselves.

Kisha Reid:  Yep.

Janet Lansbury:  And tune out the people that are making us doubters and listen to people like you.

Where can we hear more about you and the work that you’re doing? I know you have your podcast, the DEY Podcast with Kisha Reid.

Kisha Reid:  You can find that on I really enjoy talking with teachers who are working in classrooms and bringing play to public schools or bringing play to communities where maybe there’s not as much access. So many wonderful people doing lots of great work. I’m just excited to be able to amplify their voices and spread the word about all we can do for children, and all we can do really for society, because anything we can do for children, we’re doing for society.

Janet Lansbury:  That sounds really inspiring. I haven’t listened to enough of them and I’m going to listen to all of them because I need this inspiration.

Kisha Reid:  Well, I’ll be listening to you while you’re listening to me.

Janet Lansbury:  It’s so great to be with a kindred spirit in this work, who I’ve again, known and admired for so long. Thank you. Thank you for sharing with us.

Kisha Reid:  Thank you so much. This was great. Thanks.

Here are some links to enjoy more wisdom from Kisha Reid:

Defending The Early Years and Kisha’s podcast

The DEY Facebook Page

Kisha’s center: Discovery Early Learning Center

And please check out the other podcasts and posts on my website. They’re all categorized by topic and you should be able to find whatever you’re looking for. There are many of them. Also, if you’re not aware of my books, please check them out. They’re best sellers on Amazon. No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting are also available on audio at You can get one for free by using a link in the liner notes of this podcast. You can also get them in paperback at Amazon, and an ebook at Amazon, Google Play, Barnes & Noble, and If you find this podcast helpful, you can help it to continue by giving it a positive review on iTunes and by supporting my sponsors. Thank you again. We can do this.

1 Comment

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Lauren Morra says:

    My two kids attend Kisha’s school and I’m so blessed to know her. I’ve grown so much as a person and my kids are so grounded. My son just finished kindergarten and he was totally prepared to be there after attending Kisha’s school since he was 22 months. There is nothing more important to us than to have our children play. I feel so fortunate to be able to give them the childhood I had.

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