Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


Leadership Studies


Organization & Leadership EdD

First Advisor

Patricia Mitchell

Second Advisor

Danfeng Koon

Third Advisor

Helen Maniates


This qualitative study examined interactions between preschool children and teachers during guided-play activities. These interactions were studied through observations and interviews in a case-study format. Classrooms were observed for 1 hour per week over the course of 4 weeks. Teachers were interviewed following each observation. All three preschool classrooms were located in northern California and belonged to the same chain of schools. A total of six teachers and 75 students participated in the study.

Three main research questions drove the course of the study. The first research question examined the types of interactions between experienced preschool teachers and students during guided play. The second research question dealt with how preschool children respond to different types of interactions during guided play. Finally, the third research question involved recommendations for how school leaders can help teachers use their knowledge of each child’s individual abilities to make guided play more effective in the classroom.

The study revealed that teacher interactions were extremely beneficial to student learning in a play-based environment. Teachers in each classroom organized a set of hands-on activities each day through which the children rotated. The activities had specific learning goals and objectives. Many activities were in the children’s zone of proximal development (ZPD), which is defined as the area between “the most difficult task a child can do alone and the most difficult task a child can do with help” (Vygotsky, 1986, p.83). Working in the ZPD requires some teacher support and interaction, as these are the types of activities children cannot do independently. Proper scaffolding is necessary when children are working toward a goal that is slightly above what they can do without assistance. Preschool teachers should take this into consideration when planning lessons and guided play activities. School leaders can support teachers by providing more training on how to manage guided play with a large group of children, as individualized attention is necessary for successful implementation. Suggestions for training topics are detailed in the findings and discussion of this study.