Love, risk, joy, engagement, and reflection are the guiding principles of Anji Play, an early-learning philosophy and educational approach developed in Anji County, Zhejiang Province, China. Anji Play, developed 16 years ago by educator Cheng Xueqin, is in the 130 public kindergartens in Anji County. The Anji Play educational approach serves more than 14,000 children ages 3 to 6 in China. Anji Play is in pilot programs at community college lab schools, private not-for-profit sites, public libraries, and community programs in the United States and globally, including at two of Wu Yee’s centers.
In Anji Play, children lead their own play and self-expression. They chose what, where, and with whom to play. Self-determination in play, discovery, learning, the time and freedom to express complex intentions in play shows Anji Play is “True Play”. When children engage in “True Play,” they are realizing specific intentions. Given space, freedom, materials and time, these play intentions manifest themselves in high degrees of complexity. Children solve conflicts, remove danger, and create order because it makes their play more fun. They will seek to understand what they are doing and they will ask for help if they need it.
Minimally-structured, open-ended environments allow children to explore, imagine, and create. In Anji Play, environments are designed to maximize opportunities for imagination, inquiry, and contact with natural elements. The principles of Anji Play are present in indoor and outdoor environments. The materials and environments allow for a degree of possibility and complexity in play through minimal structure and open-endedness. The environment allows for children to organize and manage materials, move freely, question, describe, express, and document their experiences and observations and see these expressions and descriptions presented in a way that is accessible and prominent in the classroom and school.
“Ms. Cheng is one of the most amazing people I've met who truly understands children. She attended the entire conference and accompanied us on every school tour. You can tell that she is hands-on, unpretentious, and works hard to ensure every child is respected, loved, and experiences joy through true play.” —Jenny Yu, Regional Manager
Observation, reflection, and technology play crucial roles in the design and implementation of Anji Play. Anji educators and families are trained observers and researchers of play. Every day, educators record the play that takes place at school with their smartphones. These photos and videos are then reviewed and reflected on in the classroom. This culminates in a children-led discussion of their experiences, insights, and discoveries as a group.
Four Wu Yee staff members were invited by Ms. Cheng and Jesse Coffino, Director of Translation and Interpretation, to attend the First International True Play Conference: Global Conversations on the Future of Early Learning. Held in Anji County, the conference brought Chinese and global experts and Anji Play together to share their work, learn from one another, and consider the implications of True Play for the future of early learning. Attendees visited public early education programs in Anji County and learned directly from the children, teachers, families, and administrators who have woked together in creating a model for global educational change.
Wu Yee’s Generations Child Development Center in North Beach and New Generation Child Development Center in Visitacion Valley were both honored with awards for being an Anji Play Pilot site and Wu Yee Children’s Services was honored for being among the first global Anji Play Program Administration Partners. These Wu Yee sites are the first sites in San Francisco to implement the Anji Play educational approach.
Merced Rocha, Lead Teacher at New Generation Child Development Center, presented at the True Play Conference on Implementing Anji Play in Early Head Start Toddler Classroom. She has been working with an Anji Play coach for the past year to learn how to observe children without interfering in their play. In her presentation, she said, “Children are natural explorers, engineers, mathematicians, and designers; they just need the opportunity to explore their abilities with hands-on play.”
Thank you, Ms. Cheng and the administrators at Anji Play for this amazing opportunity to learn and explore this fascinating philosophy and educational approach!