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Early years foundation stage

Introduction

This study will be looking at how parents of children in a foundation stage setting understand and value play based activities to aid their child's learning and to consider their views on play as an integral part of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

Many policies have been introduced in the last few years concerning the education of young children. Through the implementation of policies which concentrate on supporting families, alongside initiatives like Surestart; children's welfare and education have been united as well as support being offered for parents, families and the community.

The idea of the family is now seen as an important part of early year's education and parents should be encouraged and valued as they are important to the well being of their children and their educational benefits. Aubrey (2000) suggests that early education does not happen in a void and notably, we must remember that development begins with the family and reminds us that parents are a child's first educator.

The EYFS tries to include all that is needed to ensure a child thrives in a EYFS setting, including children learn through play and parents work in partnership with settings. Although the EYFS is not without its critics.

This study will seek to establish the extent of parental awareness of the educational value of play in the EYFS classroom.

I have been employed in the early year's sector for over fourteen years and have helped with the transition from nursery to primary school for many children, including three children of my own. During this time, I have experienced many parents whom are very happy for their child to be involved in a play based curriculum whilst in nursery education, but become concerned and surprised that children when entering school do not participate in a more structured and traditional curriculum and that the EYFS is continued into school.

The next chapter will review the literature in the area of early years education, and will begin by considering some of the many definitions of play.

Literature review

This literature review, will discuss the many definitions of play. Major learning theories with reference to play, will be considered and how they have influenced education of today. It will also look at how policy has changed and developed, what has defined the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and discuss whether parents are aware of the benefits of a play based curriculum or not.

What is play?

An early definition of play comes from Isaacs (1999) who viewed play as the work of children. Montessori (2005) believed that children preferred to work whilst playing. Her teaching focused on children developing basic skills, skills could include button and fastening equipment to promote independence in dressing. Though Montessori did not promote learning through play, she did value individual effort as well as working as part of a group. (Lindon, 2001).

Lindon (2001) believes play is a range of activities which are undertaken for their own enjoyment, satisfaction and interest. Play is not essential for survival although these activities support psychological wellbeing, learning physical skills and intellectual stimulation.

Whereas Moyles (1989) comments on how play is valuable as an excellent learning tool, he also notes the difficulties in finding a definite, precise and conclusive definition of play. He continues by saying there is a need for a different terminology to be used, as the idea of play can be interpreted as something trivial, instead of being seen as play being serious and important to learning. Wood and Attfield (2005) agree by suggesting play cannot easily be defined or grouped as it is always dependant on circumstance and context, which can vary greatly.

It has become apparent that although there is no clear definition of play, play is considered to be important by researchers in the field, although Peacocke (1987) argues that the lack of definition causes parents to be suspicious of play as a true learning activity.

Child development and play

Roussou as far back as 1700 challenged the idea that children were naturally sinful with the opposing idea that children were naturally innocent (Oates et al, date) Roussou as cited in Wood and Attfield (2005) used his knowledge to think practically on how children should be raised and determined that children from birth to twelve, should have their natural innocence appreciated and should be free, to run, jump and play all day. Ideas through the years have often challenged the current thinking of the time and childhood and play has developed and changed because of differing new ideas, to how we define it today. Child development ideas continue to be discussed and challenged with innovative and profound ideas having a large impact on how childhood has been conceptualized and children treated in society.

Whilst others asked 'what do children know' Piaget as cited in Garhart Mooney, (2000) suggests that Piaget's work was about how children arrived on what they know? Piaget claimed that children construct their own comprehension by giving meaning to their surroundings and the people they meet. Piaget (1967) noted how all children of the same age appeared to think in similar ways, and how they would also make similar mistakes. From the observations Piaget noted the changes in the children's thinking; this led him to believe that the child was an isolated individual, who adapts to the environment they are in (Smith et el, 1998).

Gerhard Mooney, (2000) suggests Piaget's theory has created the most comprehensive over view of young children and how they think, although practitioners of today can see some of Piaget's theories are not as purposeful as once thought, the basic ideas of his theory still helps practitioners to plan a focused and challenging curriculum for young children. Lindon (2001) continues by suggesting that it is through Piaget's beliefs that children create their own understanding of the world, which led him to highlight that adults should create environments which children can discover and learn by themselves. Cadwell (2003) suggests an example of this is the preschools of northern Italy, Reggio Emilia which are strongly influenced by the theories of Piaget.

Vygotsky as cited in Garhart Mooney (2000) agreed with Piaget that children's knowledge was created from personal experiences; although Vygotsky suggests that personal and social experiences can not be separated and that children learn from each other every day, their language develops and they grasp new ideas as they speak to each other, listen to each other and play together. Daniels (1996) proposes that Vygotsky saw play as an important activity to aid learning and development. Vygotsky as cited in Garhart Mooney (2000) suggests play combines time and opportunity for activities in social interaction, language and the use of symbols. He believed that this would empower the child's own interests and operate problem creating and problem solving. As cited in Brock et el (2008) Vygotsky believed these were the tools needed to work within the child's zone of proximal development and that when children are learning, they learn best when what they are learning is just outside their grasp. This means that practitioners should know what the child is capable of and what they are capable of understanding. The child's development should then be aided by adult guidance and teamwork with peers.

Bruner (1977) continued to develop the ideas and theories of Vygotsky. He believed that children had an in built desire to learn. Bruner, like Vygotsky suggested that it is the work of the practitioner to know where the child's development is at and how they can carry forward the child's development to the next stage, he called this scaffolding.

Broadhead (2006) suggests that Vygotsky and Bruner's view is that the child and adult will work together, and through this they will develop new schemas. This idea has become increasingly popular, and its relevance to today's education.

Development and play

Froebel as cited in Macvanel (2009) believed that childhood was a stage in its own right and children were not mini adults. He felt children should learn through play, experience life first hand, self choose activities and use natural motivation. Froebel felt that play was a spiritual activity which reflected deep inner processes and change (Wood and Attfield, 2005). Montessori (2005) believed in an environment which is planned and learning activities supported training. She disregarded fantasy play stating it as insignificant and demeaning to the child, although she provided a child sized setting in which children could learn and rehearse life skills without the adult intervening. Montessori placed less emphasis on free play and fantasy play than Froebel (Montessori and Gutek, 2004). Where Montessori disregarded fantasy play, Isaacs (1995) saw the value of play especially spontaneous, imaginative and manipulative play. She saw that play could be used as a way to gratify frustrated needs, work through inner discord and gather understanding of the world in which children live and the relationships they have with people. Play was central to Isaacs' curriculum and invited the children to adapt problem solving techniques and develop number, mark making and reading skills (Palmer, Cooper and Bresler, 2001).

Current research carried out by Play England entitled 'Play for a change', revealed that playing had effects on areas of the brain controlling emotion, motivation and reward. The researchers continued by suggesting that play helps children to develop a range of responses to differing situations, experiences and relationships. To conclude it states playing aids children in developing flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing situations (Quarell et el, 2008). Leong (2009) agrees by saying the research into the links between play and cognitive and social skills is apparent and that play is the first stepping stone to children learning more complex ideas as they get older. This research raises new questions for those who view play as a trivial, simple, frivolous, unimportant, and purposeless behaviour and challenges them to recognize play for the important factor it is and the effect it has on children's learning (Christie, 2001).

Smith (2000) categorised play into five areas. He believed that children were active players, learners, social and emotional beings and autonomous players, and their play fitted into each of these areas. Lindon (2001) disagrees saying that researchers must be aware that although they desire areas of play to be clearly defined into categories, that these clear categories can restrict the view of play and when children play normally, they move between areas of play and adult defined areas of development with ease.

A child, who is active in play, should not always be seen as just the child engrossed in physically active play (Lindon, 2001). Fisher (1996) agrees and points out that a child engaged in an intellectual activity is just as 'active' as the child pedalling a bicycle.

Eden (2008) says that children engrossed in play with others, learn how to work together and live together, that play is a valuable resource to promote equality and cultural awareness in young children. Smith (2000) agrees by saying that children establish healthy relationships with their peers and through play children have to learn to accept others. Bruce (2001) acknowledges that it is this enjoyment of all types of play that aids the children in play. Children reflect on what they have learnt, reproduce their experiences and through this cycle of everyday learning the children consolidate their experiences.

Curriculum and play

Since the 1944 Education Act, primary teachers and staff were given considerable freedom to teach what they believed to be educationally relevant to the children within their care (Cox and Sanders, 1994). Change was bought about after the Education Reform Act (1988), namely with the introduction of the National Curriculum (Cox, 1996). The national curriculum was introduced in September 1989 and is a framework used by all maintained schools to ensure that teaching and learning is well structured, balanced and sound (directgov, 2010). After the implementation of the national curriculum, it was soon thought that the children under five would also benefit from a curriculum. The Rumbold report (1990) was influential in developing recommendations for provision for these young children. Play and talk were recommended as key approaches. The first attempt to define a curriculum was called desirable outcomes for children's learning (1996) and included six areas of learning. (Wood and Attfield, 2005).

Play in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)

The EYFS was implemented in 2007 and brings together the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage and Birth to Three Matters. The Effective provision of pre school education (EPPE) project, informed part of the EYFS and among other things showed that the experiences provided for young children in the Foundation Stage and early years settings have a strong impact on children's learning and social development (DCFS, 2008). All schools and early years settings caring for children under five years have to implement the EYFS programme and the programme ends at the end of the academic year the child turns five (Pugh and Duffy, 2010). The EYFS sets out legal requirements and direction to help practitioners in settings meet the varied developmental and learning needs of all children under five years (Bruce, 2008).

The EYFS proposes that flexible plans are used by practitioners to adapt ideas and that carers use observations to link play situations to learning outcomes. The main premise of the EYFS is that play is the central aspect and can support each of the six areas of learning (Canning and Read, 2010). For example, Pimentel (2007) suggests that to develop problem solving reasoning and numeracy in young children, practitioners should be providing mathematical opportunities through play based, open ended and challenging activities like imaginative play, songs and stories. Current research from Bergen (2002) agrees concluding there is a relationship between problem solving and pretend play and that social play has a great influence on problem solving of all kinds. Worthington and Caruthers (2010) continue by suggesting that parents should been shown how children explore mathematical meaning through play, to fully understand the concept. Riley (2003) suggests that play opportunities offer children the chance to acquire knowledge and understanding of the world in which they live and that play has the potential to be the major approach to children's learning.

The EYFS, promotes parents as partners as it recognises that young children whose parents are involved in their early learning make notably better progress (Evangelou, 2004). The child and the family is now recognised as a whole, each able to benefit the other. Initiatives such as Sure Start believe in educating parents in order to educate the child. (Kurtz, 2003). Although Wiltshire (2002) argues that the whole idea of the foundation stage is confusing to parents as they do not know anything about its aims and outcomes. Petrie and Hollaway, (2006) suggest some parents may not be aware of the opportunities for learning that are embedded in a play-oriented curriculum, whilst Brotherson (2009) reminds us that at times, parents have concerns that their child is just playing and not learning what they need to learn and parents must be made aware that play 'is' learning for children. Elkind (2007) continues by saying that parents are concerned their child is at a disadvantage if they are not constantly engaged in high level learning and educational games, and is of the opinion that parents need to be alerted and reassured of the learning benefits of unscheduled imaginative play situations which will help develop their academic and social abilities.

Since the EYFS has been implemented, there has been some who have criticised the initiative. There are fears that a single framework will result in a checklist style curriculum, with practitioners being overwhelmed with the framework (Thompson, 2006). Whitebread and Whitebread (2008) agree by continuing that although concerns over the expanse of the curriculum are minimal, there are serious concerns that in some areas the capabilities of the children are under estimated. Brock et el suggests that practitioners must be fully aware of the breadth and depth of play and a play based curriculum to be able to implement the EYFS effectively and with worthwhile outcomes.

Key points

As far back as 1929 Isaac defined play as children's work, now over eighty years later the EYFS is based upon children learning through play. The EYFS principles are based on research and theory of the early year's pioneers of education, although it is argued that parents are critical and confused by it. Policy and early year's initiatives are encouraging parents to become involved in their child's care, but it is unlikely they will become involved and embrace the EYFS if they do not understand the ideas and concepts which it is built around. I am interested to see if parents understand the benefits of play, or like Peacocke (1978) suggests parents do not see the benefits of play and like Whitebread (2002) states they are confused by the foundation stage.

Research Aims

Methodology

This chapter will look at how the research for this study has been approached, how I have designed the research and how it will help to answer the question 'Do parents of school age children value play as a learning tool to support the Early Years Foundation Stage'? I will look at which methods of research have been chosen and why, highlighting the benefits and problems surrounding the chosen methods. Validity and reliability of the research will be discussed as well as discussing ethical issues which may arise whilst carrying out the study.

Method and Approach

This piece of research is focused upon parental views and awareness of the educational value of play, it will use qualitative methods during which personal opinions will be sought. As the parent's views are paramount within the research the methodology used will be an interpretive approach. Robert Holmes (2005) suggests that qualitative researchers believe that the social world is created by the shared understanding of situations. Cresswell (2003) continues by saying that qualitative methods bring peoples personal views into the study. Peat (2002) suggests that the strengths of qualitative research include being able to gather information on the views of the participant and this in turn can help us gain insight and ideas. However, Silverman (2005) suggests that there can be limitations to qualitative research such as a hypothesis cannot be tested and that more ethical issues relating to qualitative studies can be noted as participants are giving personal viewpoints and opinions.

Validity

Hughes (2001) suggests that interpretive research is valid as long as it is true and notes the genuine voice of the participant. This is demonstrated through the research as the parents are active people whose understandings and actions are paramount and the intricacy and diversity of these opinions are respected. Robert- Holmes (2005) suggests that multiple understanding of the research is all equally important and the range of interpretations gives the research validity. Although Robson (2002) suggests validy is rarely recognised within a single study, but is built up over time during various research.

Silverman (2005) suggests that validity can be affected in qualitative research, if the researcher uses second hand knowledge rather than first hand research. I feel that I must make note of this and be assure that I remain aware of as I feel it would be easy to allow my own thoughts, views and opinions affect the research. Robson (2002) continues by suggesting further concerns with validity can arise with concern to whether the sample of people within the study is representative of the population and this must be questioned. To acknowledge this I am aware that the sample of people I am using for my research are not representative of the population as a whole but is rather focused on a small group of parents within a small community, although these parents come from differing social backgrounds. As Bell (1999) points out researchers are dependent on the amity and availability of subjects, and it can be difficult to achieve a true random sample.

Focus group

My research will be focusing on the parents of a class of thirty children who have all started at primary school in September 2009. The primary school is set on the edge of the Cotswolds and is the only school in a small town. The children are from mainly white British heritage and the school admits pupils from a wide variety of social backgrounds (Ofsted, 2007). Prior knowledge of the class suggests that majority of the children have attended at least one of three pre school settings in the town including two private day nurseries and a charitable preschool. I decided to research this subject after a discussion with a small group of parents who were concerned that there children were still just 'playing' now they were at 'school' rather than participating in the more traditional curriculum, that they were expecting. This made me realise that some parents still did not view play as a significant learning tool to support the EYFS. I also began to question what parents really felt about play as a learning tool, their views of the benefits or criticisms of a play based curriculum and if they even realised that there children would be 'taught' within the EYFS when they began at primary school.

Method

To find out the views and knowledge that the parents have of both the EYFS and how they view play, I will be using questionnaires and interviews. I have decided to use questionnaires as they are ideal if you are trying to gather a large amount of primary information from a group of people, as suggested by Green (2000). A pilot questionnaire has been designed and given out to a selection of people who are 'similar' to the people I will be giving my final questionnaire to. Once I have collected the draft questionnaires from my pilot group, I will be able to draw up my final questionnaire using any criticisms and suggestions that my pilot group give me. Green (2000) suggests that piloting your research questionnaire allows for the researcher to get rid of any uncertainty or vagueness that your questionnaire raises.

The questions I am asking within my questionnaire are a mixture of differing sorts including open ended and closed questions. Green (2000) suggests that a combination of question types should be used when designing questionnaires, whilst Hucker (2001) reminds us that we should ensure that questions are relevant, using straight forward language avoiding assumptions and using a mixture of question types and avoiding leading questions. I feel that since I will have sent a first draft questionnaire to a pilot group of people, that the finished questionnaire I am sending to the parents will have hopefully been changed and rethought if needed, with questions altered or added and that they will meet all the suggestions of Hucker (2001) and Green (2000).

Permission will be gained from the head teacher of the school. If the head teacher is happy with the questionnaire content and the proposed methodology for the research, the questionnaire will be issued to all thirty families within the EYFS classroom.

Ethical considerations and confidentiality

Aubrey (2000) reminds us that researchers have a duty to ensure that their research will do no harm to their participants and that participants will be treated with respect and their answers treated with anonymity and confidentially. The ethics of this research include ensuring the anonymity of all the participants and to present the information they share with me in a true light and to ensure the information remains confidential. Hucker (2001) reminds us that people who are involved in research have a fundamental right to know how the information collected about them will be used. To ensure that all parents know what my research is about I will enclosed a covering letter with my questionnaire outlining my intentions and the aims of the research, my details in case they wish to contact me to discuss anything regarding the research, alongside a brief paragraph outlining who I am and why I am carrying out this research. I will state within this letter that all questionnaires will be kept confidential and at no point will anyone be able to identify parents' answers. Arrangements will be made to return all questionnaires in a sealed envelope to the class teacher and then passed onto myself. At no point will I know who has returned their questionnaire and who has not. I will suggest to the parents that the questionnaires are returned to the teacher in a sealed envelope, so that they will also not be able to view the answers given by the parents.

Hucker (2001) suggests that it is an important idea to ensure triangulation in the research to show similarities across the range of methods used and to support validity and reliability in the research. Questionnaires are my first research tool and as another method to ensure triangulation, I will ask on my questionnaires if any parent would like to meet with me and participate in an interview. By using more than one method of research, I can hopefully show a fully rounded view of the research topic and as suggested by Robert-Holmes (2005) the different evidence produced can be combined and compared to provide a triangulated analysis.

To prepare for the interview with any parent who would like to take part, I have decided to do an unstructured interview rather a structured interview and have decided on a list of questions to prompt me to ensure the interview flows and to aid me in doing this. I have chosen to complete unstructured interviews as Robert-Holmes (2005) suggests that structured interviews are very similar to questionnaires where as unstructured interviews shifts the focus away from the researcher and towards the issues and the true feelings of the participant. Bell (1999) suggests that during questionnaire the responses given by participants have to be taken at face value, where as during an interview rich material can be gathered, he likens this to putting flesh on the bones of any possible questionnaire responses. Robert-Holmes (2005) suggests it is an interviewer's job to courteously listen to the responses made and to remain non judgemental at all times, this will be easier to do in a relaxed atmosphere. The prompts I will use will be open ended questions, similar to some of the questions asked within my questionnaire but in a much loser context with the aim to allow me more in-depth information on my research topic and parents views on play as a learning tool and gain an insight into their knowledge of the EYFS. An open ended question is a question in which the respondent is requested to provide their own opinion or ideas (Babbie, 2009). The responses my participant gives will be recorded by me in note form, but if I feel that I am missing out on significant information or not giving the participant my full attention, I may use a Dictaphone. This will be discussed with the participant and if they are not comfortable with this I will remain with note taking only.

I will need to address the fact that the participants anonymity will have been compromised when doing the interview as I will obviously know whom they are, but I am aware I must ensure that they realise I will remain a confidant at all times and when quoting them or discussing there interview within this study, I will use a codename for each participant. Participants will also be made aware that they are free to withdraw from the study at any time. Hucker (2001) reminds us that there are many advantages of interviews including that they allow researchers to gain more in-depth information from the participants, but that disadvantages of interviews can be that the researcher can affect the research and that the interviewer can often influence the participant's answers. Green (2000) agrees suggesting that interviewers should be aware that asking leading questions can be problematic and personal bias can make the research one sided rather than purposeful.

Conclusion

To summarise this piece of research seeks personal opinions, therefore will be a qualitative study. Aspects of validity, reliability and ethical issues have been discussed and will be maintained throughout. Questionnaires and Semi-structured interviews will be used to collect data from a sample population of parents with children in a EYFS classroom. Though this is a small study, responses will be interesting with regard to parental views towards views on play as a learning tool and the EYFS.

Now that the method of data collection has been established, it is now possible to commence with the data collection.

N.B After discussions with the Head teacher of the primary school regarding the content of the questionnaires, she has asked that I include two further questions in my questionnaire, the first being 'Where parents received their information of the EYFS' and 'If parents would like further information on the EYFS and how they would like to receive this information' The head teacher felt on a personal level for the school, that she would be able to use all the research to show how effectively the school is working in partnership with parents and where if at all they need to extend the parents knowledge of the EYFS. If the research shows that the school needed to support the parents further how they needed to improve and how parents would like to receive information was also important to her. I have agreed to this as I feel it could benefit all the parents, the children and the school. Hucker (2001) reminds us that carrying out research helps us analyse how we might do something better or more effectively, and the head teacher of the school wanted to be able to do this from my research.

Data Collection and Analysis

This chapter will discuss the data, how it was collected, analysed and interpreted. It will initially discuss the data collection process, any problems which I experienced and the successes I had. Specific themes will be identified and acknowledged alongside a brief description on the analysis of the data and how this data links to current literature. Once the main themes have been acknowledged, they will be examined and discussed in greater detail, which will lead towards the conclusion of the data and the summarisation of the main themes.

Data collection

Permission was granted by the head teacher of a primary school for me to carry out this research within the school, she agreed as the results would be beneficial to parents, children and staff.

A letter of introduction was then distributed to the foundation stage class parents alongside a questionnaire. The letter outlined the research, and the parents were asked if they would complete the questionnaire and additionally participate in an interview. In total, thirty parents were invited to participate in the study.

Problems with data collection

On sending out the questionnaires, the initial response was low and after the first week only five parents had returned their questionnaire and none of these parents had agreed to additionally doing an interview. Blaxter et el (2006) suggests that even if an institution looks positively upon the research to be carried out, it does not mean that the data collection process will run smoothly and trouble free.

A reminder poster was displayed at the school and by the end of the second week sixteen questionnaires had been returned to me, but only four of these parents had agreed to participate in an interview. Unfortunately only three of these parents commenced with interviews, the remaining one cancelled scheduled interviews on two occasions and then withdrew from the study. Hucker (2001) reminds us that interviews can be expensive in terms of time, especially when participants cancel and interviews have to be rearranged.

Success in data collection

53% of parents returned their questionnaires completed, whilst only 18.75% of these parents agreed to participate in an additional interview. Of the three parents who agreed to participate in an additional interview, one was male and two female. Interviews were transcribed and returned to respondents to delete or amend comments, although they only made minimal changes if any.

Method of analysis

Coffee and Atkinson (1996) suggest that the analysis of qualitative data often begins with the researcher identifying key themes and patterns. Robert-Holmes (2005) suggests that a researcher should know their literature surrounding their research topic to enable them to recognise differing emerging themes. To do this I have looked at all the data I have collected from the sixteen questionnaires and the two interviews and have identified three developing themes. The themes are as follows:

Themes

Knowledge of the EYFS

The school I was carrying out my research in wanted to know what knowledge the parents had on the EYFS and where they had gained their knowledge from.

From the questionnaires gathered 30% of parents acknowledged that they had no prior knowledge of the EYFS, where as 10% claimed to have lots of prior knowledge. 20% of parents acknowledged the EYFS was based around learning through play, whilst 15% of parents suggested correctly that the EYFS is a statutory requirement.

During interviews, parents were asked about knowledge of the EYFS, parents gave the following responses:

"I know very little about this, I thought it was something H did at nursery, does it continue onto school, I just presumed it was something the nursery did and didn't realise H did it at school too." (Parent 1)

"Its changed to this pretty recent , I think, I don't remember L doing it at school, they did something else I think, its just an extension of what they did at nursery, I think. K plays much more now in school than L did when she was in that class" (Parent 2)

"I have been involved in early years for a long time, so I obviously know about the EYFS. (Parent 3)

Parents were then asked where they had gained their knowledge of the EYFS from. Parents who completed questionnaires gave the following data, which has been analysed and the pie chart below configured.

How have parents gained knowledge on the EYFS?

As you can see from the pie chart above, majority of the parents have received information from a setting previous to the child beginning school, where as 29% of parents had received no information at all. Surprisingly only 5% of parents had gathered knowledge from the media/news.

A parent who I interviewed expanded on their original questionnaire answer, and explained the following regarding where they gained information on the EYFS.

"I have heard bits and pieces about this in the papers, aren't they describing it as some sort of baby nappy curriculum, or something, I don't know much more than that" (Parent 1)

I asked if parents would like to know more about the EYFS, a massive 75% of parents questioned would like more information from the school and 44% would like this information in the form of newsletters.

Learning through Play

One reoccurring theme which became evident through out the data collection was that children learn through play.

Parents were asked what children learnt from play. The following graph shows there answers.

What do children learn from play?

As you can see majority of the parents saw the benefits in play relating to the development of social skills and learning about the world, whereas less parents saw the benefits of play in developing children s letter recognition and counting.

From the interviews parents reflected on what they thought children learnt from play, their answers are as follows;

"Well, they learn how to get on with each other and how the world is, we all come from different places and have different ideas and families, they have to learn about this and I think they do when they play" (Parent 1)

"They learn how to socialise and problem solve, I suppose they learn in every area, even the maths things but not as much as all the social stuff" (Parent 2)

"Children aren't just playing without a purpose 'they learn about their letters and text, numbers, colours, days of the week, the world in which we live, I could go on and on' play can extend their knowledge in every area" (Parent 3)

One of the parents illustrated how children can learn through play. She told about her son who had been 'playing' with a doctor's set. Though he was having fun playing with it, he was also learning the names of various body parts, as he examined his family.

Though it was apparent that most of the participants believed children learn through play, nearly all parents interviewed and through the questionnaires still focused upon the social skills which could be enhanced during most activities.

Parents were asked whether they felt that children learnt more from spontaneous play or through the use of educational toys. Eleven parents saw the benefits of both types of play/toys for healthy development of their child, whilst three parents believed spontaneous play to be more beneficial and only two parents believed that educational toys were more beneficial to spontaneous play.

One parent at interview discussed the differences in children and explained that his eldest child had been very interested at five in educational toys especially jigsaw puzzles and Lego blocks, where the younger child at five enjoyed nothing more than running around in the garden and pretending to be different people in different situations. He concluded by stating:

"There must be similar benefits in both types of play as both children seem to be doing well and learning what they need to know" (Parent 1)

Another parent at interview commented on the same question by saying:

"Children learn in everything that they do, everything that they play with has some learning attached to it, yes educational toys have their place, but spontaneous play should never be over looked as the benefits are immense" (Parent 3)

I continued by asking the parents how they felt play could support the six areas of learning within the EYFS. To as not to assume anything, I asked the parents if they knew about the six areas of learning. 69% of the parents who completed the questionnaire were not aware of the six areas of learning. The parents were then given the headings of the six areas of learning and asked to score the areas one to six with one being the area in which they felt play would be the most beneficial and six being the least.

Parents felt that play would be the least beneficial in supporting learning in the area of Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy. This trend was continued through the discussions with the participants in the interviews, with participants saying:

"I can see how play helps teach the children social skills and communication, and physical development, I think the least beneficial would be the maths things" (Parent 1)

"I think the most beneficial would be the social and emotional things and knowledge of the world and least probably the maths" (Parent 2)

Play based curriculum

The last theme centred around parent's views on a play based curriculum for their child in the EYFS. Parents were asked if they felt play was an appropriate learning tool in the EYFS classroom. 75% of the parents who completed the questionnaires strongly agreed that play was an appropriate learning tool, where as the remaining 25% of parents only agreed.

75% of parents questioned strongly agreed that they believed children learn best from a play based curriculum where as 25% disagreed with this question.

The participants from the interviews commented that:

"I think play has its place, although I am not sure it can be really classed as a curriculum, they appear to play much more now than they did in this class a few years ago" (Parent 2)

"A play based curriculum, with high quality teaching should be all that is on offer to this age children" (Parent 3)

50% of parents agree with the statement, I believe that the real learning starts later on when children learn with in a more traditional curriculum. Where as the remaining 50% of parents questioned disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement. Parents who participated within the interviews commented:

"I think they learn different things later on, maybe more educational, in the class H is in now he's still learning about himself and where he fits in. Not less important, just different" (Parent 1)

"No I don't agree with that statement at all, all learning is important and we learn different things at different ages" (Parent 3)

31 % of parents who completed the questionnaires agreed that they felt children spent to much time playing within the EYFS framework, where as 69% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.

A parent commented within her interview

"I don't necessarily disagree with the children playing, although it does appear that is all they do, but if it has been proven that is the best way this age child will learn, then that's fine, I do think maybe a little bit more structure with less play may be more beneficial" (Parent 2)

A parent who has taught the EYFS, commented within her interview

"Children of this age can't spend enough time playing, that's what it's all about" (Parent 3)

Lastly, the parents were asked about their views on the appropriateness of the EYFS for a school setting. 63% of parents strongly agreed that the Early Years Foundation Stage was appropriate for school aged children, where as 37% of parents who completed questionnaires agreed that the EYFS was not appropriate for school age children.

Comments completed by the parents who were interviewed stated

"Well I am presuming it is appropriate for these children or they wouldn't be doing it, the thing is will it all change again when something new comes in" (Parent 2)

"The EYFS, is in my opinion the most appropriate curriculum we have had for children, many children on the continent do not begin formal schooling until much later and their children are out shining ours, so taking this step back from a traditional curriculum, is a step in the right direction, but that's just my opinion!" (Parent 3)

Conclusion

To summarise this chapter, after data collection and analysis, a number of themes were identified. All parents were given the same opportunities to participate in the study and no participant had an unfair advantage.

The main themes identified were knowledge of the EYFS, learning through play and a play based curriculum. The final response rate of 53% of parents returning their questionnaires was satisfactory, although the low response rate of 18% of parents willing to participate in interviews was disappointing. The results of the questionnaires and the interviews have proven to be interesting.

Responses highlight, that parents know very little about the EYFS, but feel it is the best type of curriculum for this age of child and that although parents are aware of the child's ability to learn through play, in reality the majority of parents see play as an activity which aids children's social skills mainly and fail in some instance to see how play can act as a learning tool for other areas of a child's development.

The next chapter will consider how the results from the research relate to current literature in the area.

Discussions and recommendations

This chapter will begin by providing a summary of the research findings with a discussion around the three main themes and how they are related to the literature in this particular area. A discussion will follow on the limitations as well as the directions for future actions and research. This will conclude the chapter, where the main points of the research will be bought together.

Discussion of findings

The main aim of this research was to investigate whether parents of school age children value play as a learning tool to support the EYFS?

There were three major themes identified in the last chapter.

Knowledge of the EYFS

Wiltshire (2002) argues that the whole idea of the foundation stage is confusing to parents as they do not know anything about its aims and outcomes which is in contrast as one of the important strands of the EYFS is that providers will work closely with parents (Directgov, 2010).

From the information gathered it appears that 30% of parents knew nothing about the EYFS, which means that these parents and their children have not been working in partnership with the school setting as suggested as good practice for those working within the EYFS.

Parents at interview did not seem to realise that the EYFS continued from nursery into the school environment, and the data suggests that the largest proportion of parents gathered their information about the EYFS from a setting their child attended previous to beginning school.

One parent's main knowledge of the EYFS came from media alone. Steve Alexander, chief executive of the Preschool Learning Alliance as cited in Watson (2008) states that ill evidence and sensation style reporting is causing parents to question and make complex decisions about the benefits of the EYFS, whilst Beverly Hughes as cited in Watson (2008) continues by saying that the critics are spreading uncertainty and misconceptions amongst parents causing concern and uncertainty. Surely parents need to be made aware of the EYFS and this would possibly encourage a deeper understanding, as well as challenging any pre-conceived notions parents may have.

Learning through play

Quarell ET el brings forward research from Play England suggesting that children learn in many differing areas when using play as a learning tool. Scales and Alward (1999) also suggest that children benefit through play by creating knowledge in all areas of development. Bredekamp and Copple (1997) as cited in Cooney et el (2004) suggests some play supporters focus on the benefits for cognitive development, some see the social and emotional benefits and others the effects on motor skills. Some high light the benefits of imagination, others see the effects in differing areas, but everyone agrees that play benefits children's development.

During the data collection stage, it became apparent that the parents saw play as beneficial mainly in developing children's social skills. The reality that children establish relationships through the mode of play is in itself an idea that has been understood for years. Smith (2000) suggests that children learn to interact with others and in turn find out where they belong within their world. Parent's views suggest that they could see that children's play benefited many areas, including knowledge of the world, although many parents failed to see the benefits of play in enhancing children's number and letter recognition as well as counting. Pound (2008) suggests that parents needs to understand that maths is about life, everything children 'play' with has learning opportunities for mathematical development. Sand, blocks, wheel toys and role play, all have opportunities for children to learn in a mathematical context.

The data collected regarding the question above on the benefits children gain from play, is reflected in the question regarding which area of learning play benefits most. This data also suggested that majority of the parents didn't see the benefits of play in enhancing development of problem solving, reasoning and numeracy, although one parent who had taught the EYFS suggested that 'play could enhance all areas of learning equally, it was down to the learning opportunities provided by the practitioner' (parent 3). Kelly (2009) suggests that children who enjoy rich and diverse play opportunities are more likely to develop desirable outcomes, attitudes and knowledge. The EPPE project outlines the importance of practitioners been highly qualified to give children the most effective learning opportunities available to extend their development.

The data collected suggests that majority of the parents could see the benefits of both educational and spontaneous play; with one parent at interview discussing that one of their children enjoyed educational toys, whilst the other benefited from spontaneous play and suggested 'that both ways of learning must be beneficial as they are doing ok!' Bruce (2001) agrees suggesting it is through all types of play that children learn and develop appropriately and it is positive to see that majority of parents see the benefits and disagree with Elkind (2007) who suggests parents are concerned their child is at a disadvantage if they are not permanently engaged in high level learning and educational toys.

Play curriculum

When the first nursery school was opened by Robert Owen in 1816, unstructured free play was regarded as an effective learning opportunity for young children (Kwon, 2002). Isaacs (1929) looked upon play as the very important work of children. He suggested that it was through play the child could experiment, and explore the world around them. This was when children could begin to acknowledge and appreciate the effects of situations, and by doing so, develop their learning. Smith and Pelligrini (2008) continue by suggesting that within an EYFS environment practitioners should ensure that they include good opportunities for genuine free play, but there should also be opportunity for play that is structured and enhanced by adults.

The data suggests that although parents see that play is an appropriate learning tool for children as stated within their completed questionnaire, two out of the three parents interviewed expressed concern of the amount of time children spend playing. The Foundation Stage (QCA/DfEE, 2000) which was combined with Birth to three matters to provide us with the EYFS suggests within that framework that from the child's viewpoint no distinction between 'play' and 'work' is made. It could then be argued that parents also need to acquire this view, if they want their child to fully benefit from the EYFS.

50% of parents still believe that the real learning happens later when children are introduced to a more traditional curriculum. Wardle (1987) suggests that more and more parents expect their young children to be learning academic skills and there is no room left for child centred play. Petrie and Hollaway, (2006) also suggest some parents may not be aware of the opportunities for learning that are embedded in a play-oriented curriculum.

Limitations of the study

As with many research studies, this study also had its limitations. The research was not testing a hypothesis and the results from the data are only relevant to the specific setting in which I collected them from. If the research was to be repeated, a larger sample size could be used and a longer time scale may be beneficial. This would allow larger quantities of data to be collected which could result in differing results.

Although all parents were given the chance to participate within the study, I was limited to gathering information from all parents whom were happy to take part; with a larger scale of participants a true random sample of the population could be selected. The actual time limit and wordage of this piece of research was the final limitation. It would be interesting to research this subject in a more in depth manner, without being limited by sample, time and wordage restrictions.

Implication for policy and research

A proportion of the parents who participated within this research study, commented through questionnaire and interview that they had limited knowledge, if any of the EYFS and a play based curriculum. Further questions within the questionnaires and interviews revealed how some parents are aware of the benefits of play, but many still have concerns on how long children are playing whilst at school and how this play fits into the learning outcomes for the EYFS.

The results of this study could be used in school policies, especially in encouraging parents to become true partners in their child's education. As Hannon (1995) suggests schools should acknowledge the potential of parents and be aware of their abilities to be a highly inspiring teaching force. Although Wiltshire (2002) argues, parents are confused by the principles and practices of the foundation stage, it is unlikely that they would ever be partners in the education process.

Parents responding within the questionnaires that the majority of them would like to know more about the EYFS and would like to receive information in the form of newsletters, emails and workshops. This information should enable the school to provide sessions and information for parents, which would be of benefit to staff, families and the wider school community.

Conclusion

Though this study did have certain limitations, it was able to identify the extent of parental knowledge concerning the EYFS and to begin to explore parent's views on play as a learning tool. Parents were very aware of the social benefits of play, and majority did recognise the fact that children can learn a great deal through play and that parents saw the benefits of all kinds of play, although their was concerns about how play was able to benefit some areas of learning.

This knowledge will now be utilised by the school involved. Hopefully the introduction of workshops or practical sessions for parents and children, where they can learn together, will be successfully established in order to ensure that parents become true partners in their children's education.

Summary

I set out to answer the question "Do parents of school age children value play as a learning tool to support the EYFS" The study has begun to answer this question.

The research has indicated that the parents require more information on the EYFS and some feel that they are not receiving enough information from the school. It is recognised that the findings also confirm Wiltshire's (2002) study, where it was argued that parents are confused by the concept of the Foundation stage, and I feel that this suggestion, will also be true with reference to the EYFS. As the research highlighted, majority of parents saw benefits in play and could see how it could be used to help children develop, although some parents were unaware of the benefits of play from an educational point of view, especially regarding the area concerning problem solving, reasoning and numeracy.

However, the limited timescale and the fact that the research was carried out in just one setting, does not allow the researcher to make any sweeping generalisations. The study provides some interesting data regarding parental awareness, but is only relevant to the one EYFS setting that the research was carried out within. Because of this, we can not generalise and say that the findings are true to all parents in all EYFS settings.

To improve this study, the research could be carried out in different locations, inner city, as well as rural, to encourage further validity within the results. Any further study could also include other social variables such as race, class or religion, which would allow for a more in-depth analysis of parental knowledge of the EYFS and their views on play as a learning tool.

On a positive note this study can now be used to develop and build upon parents existing knowledge, and enable them to become more involved as partners in the children's education, allowing them to learn and believe in what their children are participating in.

The major challenge now lies in exchanging information with parents to educate them in the benefits of a play curriculum and to educate them in the EYFS. If successful, there will be benefits to the parents, children and ultimately the school.

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