Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Power of Play

Often my blog posts are a very generic commentary on some aspect of education but this one is focused on our school's inquiry into 'learning through play' for our Year 1s (5-6 year olds) in particular. Deputy Principal, Karen McMillan has conducted her own leadership inquiry into this subject and I have included some of her work below. From the outside looking in some of the activities may seem to have little purpose but there is indeed ‘power’ in the design. 

Play is real learning too

Play isn’t some sort of soft approach before the ‘real’ learning begins. That idea is a hangover from education’s industrial era. Play has been consistently described across time as central to cognitive, language, cultural, and social development. Lev Vygotsky said that ‘In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development.’ (Vygotsky, 1978, p 102). He believed it was incorrect to conceive play as being without purpose. He considered that play as supporting the development of a child’s cultural knowledge that helped frame future learning of the child(Drewery & Claiborne, 2013).
I’m really confident that play is also the preferred mode of learning for young children. They get it. Play is what young children do. It’s what they know, and they are good at it. (1)
Why Learning Through Play by Karen McMillan

In New Zealand your 5th birthday is a big event. You are going to start school. However, for a long time many teachers of New Entrants have had concerns on how we transition our children from Early Childhood Education to Primary. The major difference being the New Zealand Curriculum and Te Whariki. There are links between the different curriculums but the reality for our students is they wake up on their 5th birthday and their experience of starting school can be the cause of anxiety for the children and their families.

We are finding that many of our youngsters arrive at the school gates full of curiosity and an enthusiasm for learning (natural learner agency) but somehow the school system squashes this out of them as we need to conform to set standards. For many teachers this has taken the “joy” out of teaching and the importance of personalised learning and student led learning.  
One of the key findings from the literature research is that successful transitions depend on the nature of the relationships between all involved. For children, their friendships, peer relationships and the relationship with their teacher appear central. Respectful, reciprocal relationships between the adults involved are also key factors in a successful transition. This is important for all children but seems to be especially influential for the success of Māori children.

Relationships permeate the other key themes for success that were identified in the literature, such as a sense of belonging and wellbeing at school, engagement in learning, learning dispositions and identity as a learner. Children, whose teachers take time to get to know them, affirm their culture, recognise and build on their prior learning, and see promise rather than deficits, reflect many of the features of a successful transition that will support their learning.

The child-led ‘learning through play’ model that ECE is based on has been proven to be a powerful model for child engagement and holistic child development.

Current research and practices trialling in primary schools are showing how effective this model can be in New Entrant classes, especially in the Key Competencies that underpin the NZ Curriculum.
After reading research, discussions with colleagues in both sectors (Early Childhood and Primary)  and observing a current programme in a school, we are going to incrementally implement this play based learning approach in our Junior School. (Year 1 and 2)

This means that within our daily timetable there could be:
Activities (designed to provocate) displayed inside, on the deck or under the archgola for children to come in and engage with. The various activities will cover many aspects of development such as Large Motor/ Physical Skills, fine motor skills, creativity, sensory etc. They may link to topic / learning about the world as in our inquiry planning or based on the children's passions, interest or urges (eg spinning, digging, climbing etc)

The main focus of this time however will be the Key Competencies of the NZ Curriculum ie Relating to Others, Managing Self, Participating and Contributing and Thinking alongside the Principles of the ECE curriculum such as, Well-Being, Belonging, Contribution and Exploration.

The overall aim for Learning Through Play Time is to ensure children make a smoother transition, hence they will be coming into an environment that is familiar to them. It will give teachers the opportunity to observe children and build a relationship with them in an interactive positive way while helping them to develop in areas that they need.

During 'Learning Through Play', teachers will be engaging with the children as they play and carrying out explicit teaching sessions whilst the children are playing. We believe this will result in less “busy” work such as worksheets as children will be engaged in “purposeful” and “powerful” play / learning.

If you would like further reading, take a look at these links:

(1)                                    (very short Seven Sharp Q + A with Nathan Makere Wallis)

(The work place needs of the future and the relationship of play in preparing children with the key skills and competencies required)