Friday, 7 April 2017

Go Outside and Play

Coming from a family of 5 children, ‘go outside and play’ was a common phrase I heard from my parents in the 1950s and ‘60s. I also heard this phrase many times when I went to stay with friends. Either innately these parents knew it was good for us to get out and make sense of our world, or they just needed their own space in a time of large families. One family I went to school with had 14 children!!

Since my arrival at Waterloo School (May 2016) Karen McMillan (DP), Team Leaders Becs Perkins and Vicki Barnes have been advocating introducing some ‘play based’ learning concepts. Over the years I have been very aware of the importance of play in a child’s development and for years many schools have used the ‘developmental’ time for children to not only have some choice in their learning week, but to have time to be creative, construct and learn to negotiate their activities and environment with other children.

The term ‘developmental’ is apt because as we know, learning is developmental. Not all children come to aspects of learning at the same time. Some children arrive at school reading simple sentences and in some cases children can read picture books with ease. Some children are very confident speakers with a large vocabulary, others with more limited vocabulary. Written language varies tremendously too with some children able to write their name and in a few cases, children can write simple stories with grand ideas.  Whereas, other children are not developmentally ready for reading and writing and will need time and support to do so.

If we try and ‘box’ these children into expectations that they should all be able to jump through the same learning hoops at the same stage and time, there is one thing for certain! We will crush many of their spirits and impair their confidence and potential for learning and set them back so they may not ever recover from this damage.

It takes great skill and professionalism to manage the diverse range of needs of these fragile souls so we can grow them into their potential. Some of these children will need special assistance in literacy and numeracy but treated with respect and understand,these children will later flourish.

I digress though because although this understanding of the developmental nature of learning is so important, I really want to talk about the importance of play in children’s development.

The following was written for our Waterloo School Y1-2 parents by Becs Perkins.

Play Based Learning is the child-led ‘learning through play’ model that ECE (Early Child Education) is based on and has been proven to be a powerful model for child’s engagement and holistic child development.  

Current research and practises trialling in primary schools are showing how effective this model can be in especially in the development of the Key Competencies that underpin the NZ Curriculum.

This is a programme that we are continuing to develop across the Junior school to enhance the children’s agency (ownership) over their own learning as well as their independence and self-management.  

During the play based learning, teachers will be engaging with children as they play and carry out explicit teaching sessions e.g. reading groups, writing, etc whilst the children are playing.”

For those who are interested, these two theories(1) add further insight into why play is so important in a child’s development.
1.     Modern theories examine play from the perspective of how it impacts a child’s development. According to Dietze and Kashin, “The learner is no longer regarded as a passive receiver of knowledge, but as an active constructor of meaning”.[12] This perspective is emphasized within the constructionist theory through experiential learning. Theorist John Dewey suggests that children learn best by both physical and intellectual activity; in other words, children need to take an active role in play.
2.     Contemporary theories focus on the relationship of play to diversity and social justice in daily living and knowledge. Children learn social and cultural contexts through their daily living experiences. The Zone of Proximal Development concept, developed by Lev Vygotsky, suggests that children require activities that support past learning and encourage new learning at a slightly-more-difficult level. Vygotsky believed that social engagement and collaboration with others are powerful forces which transform children's thinking. Urie Bronfenbrenner states that a child's development is influenced by both the person and the environment (which includes family, community, culture and the broader society).

Many adults view play as the opposite to work, yet to see a young child learn maths or coding (programming) via a game causes disruption to this idea.

We intend to go quietly as we construct meaningful activities / opportunities for children’s play but recognise that children need to go into that imaginary world of play to. Our challenge is to provide for the range of learning needs and ‘readiness’ for learning and ensure we personalise each child’s learning pathway. ‘Play based learning’ is a powerful and positive force in a child’s development as long as there is rigour and purposeful planning in setting the learning environment up for our children.

( (1)     Playing and Learning, Beverlie Dietze, Diane Kashin, page 46,Pearson Prentice Hall, ISBN 978-0-13-512546-5

Cartoon: Maurice Sendak

If you would like further reading here are some links to help.

Warren Owen

Postscript: While I was writing this piece I happened to view the article below which shows the power of allowing children to play and dream. Two 8 year olds playing noughts and crosses started playing around with the format and created a new game which has been made into an app available in the Apple app store. Very cool.