Evaluation of Play as an Educational Tool for Children
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Published: Mon, 12 Feb 2018
‘Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see’ (Postman, 1994, p xi).
The importance of learning, the content and delivery, for children in Year 1 (5 to 6 years of age) is under debate. Arguments are rife through education that formal teaching as prescribed through the Literacy Hour, is developmentally inappropriate for many 6 year olds, and thus recommending that the principles of the Foundation Stage can be extended to cover all children aged between 3 to 7 years of age.
From the Government’s point of view David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, was reported in the Sunday Telegraph,31 August 2003 in saying that too many children are not ready for school due to their “disrupted and dishevelled” upbringing. As a result, the verbal and behavioural skills of the nation’s five-year-olds were at an all-time low, causing severe difficulties for schools.
Review of literature
Much has been stated in this country over the problems that children of 5 to 6 years of age face with their education. The Government’s Chief Inspector of Schools has been vocal on the subject: In 2003 children are starting school less well prepared than ever because parents are failing to raise their youngsters properly. One of the key causes waste failure of parents to impose proper discipline at home, which led to poor behaviour in class. Another serious concern was the tendency to sit children in front of the television, rather than talking and playing with them.
This meant that many were unable to speak properly when they started school, stating that parents were still not doing enough to support teachers. “There is evidence that children’s verbal skills are lacking. We should encourage parents to talk to their children and give them a whole range of stimulating things to do and not just assume that the television, or whatever, will do all that for them.” He added that the deficiencies of pupils starting school could have lasting effects, particularly where parents continued to fail to offer support to teachers. (Sunday Telegraph, 31 August 2003).
At the time a two-part response to this came from a) Mos. Kaman Gandhi(2003) CEO of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists said behaviour is very obviously linked to language and it is very hard to separate one from the other. “It is clear some parents have problems with their pre-school children. They have the will but sometimes lack the resources and know-how to cope when faced with a child with language difficulties,” “Speech and language therapists are involved and engaged with some key initiatives, including Sure Start programmes, which bring together early education, childcare, health and family support to give a sure start to young children living in disadvantaged areas. Along with b) Talk to Your Baby co-coordinator Liz Attenborough(2003) said: “All parents wish to do their best for their children, but often lack the confidence or knowledge to implement powerful parenting practices, such as attentive listening, singing songs, playing rhyming games and sharing books. Parents need to be empowered to recognise their valuable contribution to their child’s ability to make sense of the world, through encouraging communication at every opportunity”
Yet prior to this, in January of 2003 reported in the Financial Times, it was stated that every primary school in the country should hold classes for parents to teach them how to play with their children in an attempt to stop language skills disappearing from some homes, Alan Wells (2003) the head of the Basic Skills Agency told the North of England Conference. Head teachers were reporting a steady rise in what has been called the “daily grunt” – monosyllabic conversational skills and a basic lack of language ability that was not connected to the problems of learning another language. “This is about children sat in front of TVs or their computers, and it’s about a lack of families having food together and a general lack of conversation,” He also stated that programmes on a national scale were needed to teach some parents how to play with their children, read to them regularly and demonstrate conversational skills within the family.
So children’s development is questionable, it was reported in the Sunday Telegraph in June of 2003 that education researchers, who blame increased television viewing and the decline of family conversation forth trend, say that teaching such children the 3Rs is a waste of time because they have not yet grasped the basics of language, and that unbelievable as it seems, some children starting nursery do not seem to have ever had a one-to-one conversation with anyone. Parents rely on television as a distraction for the child, so they can cope with other matters in their busy lives, but where does the problem start, and how do other countries tackle the issue.
The cycle of learning, that of perceiving, knowing and remembering, begins in the very first few days of life with the child responding and learning from reflex action. These actions are the beginnings Ofcom-ordination, which become patterns of behaviour. This learning process of a young child becomes very much that of active rather than passive. The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) termed these as schemas, and by way of complex research of into the child’s intellectual development, began to explain the evolution of thinking for a child. As the child progresses and grows, their senses of hearing, seeing and touch are used to great effect to understand all-around them and learn. Through observing the forms of logic and reasoning of children, especially their spontaneous comments, Piaget developed his cognitive theory of qualitative changes, in that children think and reason differently at different periods in their lives whilst going through stages of intellectual development. From this research concept was introduced four fundamental neurological stages of child-development: sensory-motor, pre-conception, intuitive, concrete operational, and formal operation (Child, 1997, pp. 193-201).
For this paper concentration will only be on all stages leading up to concrete operational.
The first stage of development is sensory-motor: for a mental age approximately 0 to 2 years. Developmentally, the first two years of child’s life is very important. Mental structures of the child are mainly concerned with the mastery of concrete object’s, very early actions, taking place from day 1 to 4 months) involve sucking and general body movements. These are primary actions, mainly the grasping of everything towards it that it comes in contact with.
As the senses and actions improve, from cycles repeating and the perfecting of co-ordination, Piaget refers to these cycles of action as significant primary circular reaction. Here new actives appear, with less demand on reflexes. At 4 to 8 months an increase in visual-motorcar-ordination allows interests to take place outside of the child’s body, these secondary circular reactions are basically sensory reflex grasping by limbs of all that comes in range.
Next, at 8 to 12 months, these secondary circular reactions are more refined and incorporated into new situations that lead to that of purposeful behaviour. At 12 to18 month’s the child will experiment at extending these secondary circular reactions into tertiary circular reactions, by inventing and developing new ways of completing the required end-result. At plus 18month’s, towards the end of this initial stage the child begins to represent the world in mental images and symbols, and the inception of language allows the depiction of objects in their absence.
It was found that with the child’s imagination, the act of play becomes very important, it allows assimilation and enables the complete union of sensory experience and motor activity development. Imitation is shown as an example of accommodation, where the child is attempting to modify behaviour to become someone or something else. The term deferred imitation is where the ability to cope with someone else in their absence, and represents a great advance as it shows that the child’s development is such that it is now able to form images of events that can be recalled for future reference (Child, 1997, p 194).
The second stage of development is pre-conception: for a mental age approximately 2 to 4 years. Here the direct link between sensory experiences and motor activity are developed into the intermediate process of mental activity, and the acknowledging of symbols starts to take place, which act on the experience and knowledge gained in the first stage, due to internalizing imitations and actions. The child’s use of transductive reasoning is evident, where the coincidence of two events, possibly non-related, creates a pre-concept.
This period in a child’s development is very dominated by symbolic play, where doll’s become babies etc. and direct imitation of what other people are doing. All this takes place with an egocentric nature, as the child is unable to view things from another person’s point of view. The egocentric nature also stops the child from understanding what is seen by way of visual perception, another person’s angle of views the same as theirs or vice versa.
Part B of the second stage is Intuitive: for a mental age of approximately 4 to 7 years. Where the mastery of symbols takes place, by the process of mental activity, acting on all experience and knowledge gained in the previous stage. Being very dependent on superficial perceptions of their environment, the development of ideas and understanding of situations are formed by impressions, which are on-reversible. Meaning the child can only comprehend one relationship at a time, this occurrence Piaget terms cantering, the concentrating on one aspect of a problem and disregarding the rest.
This results in a lack of conservation of quantity, which relate to problems that involve reorganizing a flexible mass such as water in containers. Because the child is dependent on superficial perceptions it cannot work the problem backwards, Child (1997, p.197) outlines the problem of the child realizing of the mass to its original shape by the compensating for changes in the original dimensions. This mental action of reversibility is a central skill that frees the child from intuitive impressions, and enables an appreciation of the change in physical dimensions without change in the total quantity.
Part three of the development stage is concrete operational: for a mental age approximately 7 to 11 years. Where the mastery of classes, relations, numbers, and how to reason takes place. The child describes the environment at the highest levels of abstract reasoning, with consistent classifications leading to the accurate sorting of similar properties, resulting in providing valid concepts. This sorting is referred to as serration and leads to concrete operational thinking, inessential skill of development.
Finally stage four in the development process is formal operation or abstract thinking – mental age approximately 11 years and up. Where the mastery of thought takes place, the highest level of thinking, where the person can reason hypothetically and in the absence of material evidence.
Piaget put each of these four fundamental stages as part of an invariant sequence, a sequence that could not be broken but could be longer or shorter, and each stage contained major cognitive tasks that had to be completed for successful intellectual development before moving onto the next. These fundamental stages have been the foundation for teaching and learning, which some educationalists argue to reject.
Margaret Donaldson (1978) argues that the task Piaget used to observe children was at the time not explained in sufficient detail for them to understand. Therefore on the subject of cantering (Piaget, stage 2B),the findings are invalid, and Donaldson explains that research into this task and another of similar design, have been carried out by several including Martin Hughes (pp. 20-31). The results were dramatic. With thirty children aged between 3 and 5 years, 90% of their responses were correct, and the youngest ten children with an average age of 3years 9 months, achieved a success rate of 88%. Overall the general conclusion seems unavoidable: pre-school children are not nearly so limited in their ability to ‘decentre’ or appreciate someone else’s point of view, as Piaget has maintained for many years (p 30).
So what are the reasons that hold a 5-6 year old child back, and how can they be addressed. Other elements to learning exist: that of different social and ethnic backgrounds, that children learn effectively by playing in a calm environment, that the performance and cycle of learning is enhanced when parent/teacher is eager to be positive and praise, and when parent/teacher is quick to be negative, the child is reluctant to learn. With these extra elements, the stages described are not so firmly coupled with age, but as stated, with mental age. This mixture is termed constructivism, the blending of cognitive psychology and social psychology that dictate adaptive behavior, not just cognitive alone.
So learning is a constructivist activity. Cognitive development is a process in which language is a crucial tool for determining how the child will learn how to think because advanced modes of thought are transmitted to the child by means of words.
The Russian theorist, Vygotsky (1962) reached a conclusion that thought and speech originate from different processes and then evolve in parallel but independently of each other. Children learn the names of objects only when told so. At some point the attitude changes, the child becomes curious about names of things. At this point the child’s vocabulary increases dramatically, with much less coaching from adults, this point in the development of the child is where thought and speech merge. During the course of development everything occurs more than once, in the learning of language our first utterances with peers or adults are for the purpose of communication, but once mastered they become internalized and allow inner conversation, and thought undergoes many changes as it turns into speech.
Vygotsky, believes that the meanings of words evolve during childhood, and their meanings are dynamic, not static entities. Tough (1976) found that language and literacy is directed in the young child by factors such as the size of family, parents and their educational background, class, language, their situation and location. Therefore the foundation of learning is on social constructivism that involves language & home background; and the importance of play by way of meaningful stimulation that promotes intellectual development.
Another argument on Piaget’s theories regarding the pre-conception stage, 2A, was by Povey and Hill (1975) showing that the social activity of language may have been undervalued, not only as a source of variation between children’s concept development but also as the vehicle by which children convey their ability to form concepts (Child,1997, p.195). Povey and Hill also found that children up to the age of four gain specific and generic concepts from pictorial information(pictures, drawings).
Moss & Penn (1996) produced a broad evaluation of nursery education in the UK and out of this concentrated their results on how the early learning services had been badly neglected. With continual under-funding an issue and increased fragmentation; staff poorly paid and trained; low aspirations and lower expectations, their provocative analysis of this evaluation also showed that young children are seen as important for what they may become, rather than for what they are.
In England children are legally required to start the National Curriculum (Key Stage 1) the term after their 5th birthday (31 August,31 December or 31 March). Yet children often start earlier than this. Children are taken into nurseries from 5 months through to 5 years. Across the world it is about the same, the age of 5 in Canada, and 5 in the USA. In the state of Indiana, USA, a child has to be 5 by August1st, last year it was 5 by July 1st, and prior to that it was June 1st.
In the USA since 2004 plans were being made for a start age of 3 by researchers at the Frank Porter Graham (FPG) Child Development Institute in the USA were formulating plans to develop a rich learning environment for pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) that took into account the child’s social, emotional and physical development. Now in 2006 the plans are a reality with First School, a new vision for early schooling of children ages 3 to 8. Developed through a partnership among families, the community, the FPG Child Development Institute and The University of North Carolina, which together are passionate about the future of schools and schooling for young children.
The FPG aim is to use this model to inform other educational institutions to guide them to a successful early learning experience for children and families. The early start age reflects the lives of working mothers in today’s society, trying to balance work and family life, whilst trying to improve life chances for their children. First school offers a safe, constructive and significant haven for children, bringing a quality into pre-school environments. The problem of childcare for parents on low income or in a workless situation, is not exclusive to one country, it is a global problem, and is a major consideration towards education.
In the UK this problem is being addressed by the Government taking on ate-year strategy for childcare, published in 2004, which is now subject to Parliamentary Approval in 2006 (Education & Skills,2006). It is the Government’s response to a fundamental challenge facing Britain in the need to ensure available, affordable, and high-quality childcare in the 21st Century.
The problems that face the teaching of Language and Literacy are highlighted here in examples from the UK and in the USA, yet it is recognised as a global problem. Many studies have been carried out over years, highlighting the contribution of high quality early education, which tends to be more targeted at disadvantage children. This underlines the concern of literacy problems in later years, which is being addressed now for the education standards of tomorrow.
In the US long term studies in early childcare NICHD (1991) highlighted the fact of high-quality childcare was found to give a better cognitive and language ability than children in low-quality care. It also found that children who spent more time in childcare were seen to display behavioural problems, such as aggressive tendencies at 4.5 years onwards, than children in less care. The largest and most lasting academic gains were seen in disadvantaged children.
For the UK the Department for Educational Studies (Dress) funded the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education a longitudinal study in1996, it was an evaluation for children of 3 to 7 years of age inure-school through into primary from different social backgrounds. The summary in Findings from the Early Primary Years (EPPE Summary 2004)where collected data was about the children, parents, home environment and the pre-school they attended, and proved that cognitive and social effects were positive going into primary.
The findings of the study showed that parent’s education and social class remained as predictors of intellectual and social development, and that very long periods of pre-school were connected withanti-social behavioural problems. This fact was attributed to the presence of non-parental childcare before three years of age. The education level of the child’s mother was also seen to be a major factor in the child’s performance.
Major findings from the pre-school period included that of disadvantaged children benefit significantly from good pre-school experience, especially when they are with a mixture of children from different backgrounds. It was also found overall, that disadvantaged children tend to attend pre-school for shorter periods of time than those from more advantaged groups (EPPE Summary 2004). Several recommendations were made, that included: to encourage more episodes of ‘sustained shared thinking’ with the children; work towards an equal balance of child and adult initiated activity; and ensure that staff have both the knowledge and understanding of curriculum and child-development.
The UK Government in the UK introduced an extended National Curriculum (Education Act 2002) and the Foundation Stage that was for the 3 to 5year olds, giving this period in the child’s education a distinct identity and attention. The six areas of learning became statutory, and the Act also specified that there should be early learning goals for each of the areas: Personal, social and emotional development; Communication, language and literacy; Mathematical development; Knowledge and understanding of the world; Physical development; and Creative development. A national consultation on the content of the early learning goals as set out in Curriculum guidance for the foundation stage was carried out in autumn 2002.
Following this consultation the early learning goals, and use of the Curriculum guidance as a guide, became statutory in March 2002. This new move was aiming to secure learners participation and ensure appropriate opportunities for them to achieve, and offered flexibility within for schools to develop their own curriculum. It offered a less prescriptive approach, in which flexible allocating of time for required subjects allowed them not to taught each week, term or year, therefore allowing choice of method and the advancement of teaching and learning. The Act also established a single national assessment system for the foundation stage, replacing baseline assessment schemes.
The Foundation stage profile was introduced into schools and settings in 2002-3. This profile has 13 summary scales covering the six areas of learning, which need to be completed for each child receiving government-funded education by the end of his or her time in the foundation stage. The Foundation Stage developed the key learning skills: listening, speaking, concentration, persistence, learning to work together and-operating with others, along with the developing of communication, literacy & numeric skills in the preparation for entry into of the National Curriculum at Key Stage 1.
Progress for the child through the Foundation Stage is categorised as Stepping Stones, where developing knowledge can be identified through the 13 stages of the Foundation Stage Profile, the assessment of which is completed in the final year prior to entry into Primary School. Emphasis is placed on successful personal, social and emotional development for all, especially those children with behavioural or communication difficulties. Throughout, the curriculum requires a safe and secure, rich environment for the child that is vibrant, purposeful, challenging and supportive, where trust for the practitioner is forthcoming, and progress is positive and rewarding.
A prolific body of research in the USA has centred on early childhood programmes, in the state of Carolina, USA, in 2004 plans were being made for a start age of 3. Researchers at the Frank Porter Graham (FPG)Child Development Institute were formulating plans to develop a rich learning environment for pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) that took into account the child’s social, emotional and physical development. Now in2006 the plans are a reality with First School, a new vision for early schooling of children ages 3 to 8.
Developed through a partnership among families, the community, the FPG Child Development Institute and The University of North Carolina, which together are passionate about the future of schools and schooling for young children. The FPG aim is to use this model to inform other educational institutions to guide them to a successful early learning experience for children and families. The early start age reflects the lives of working mothers in today’s society, yet it also offers a safe, constructive and significant haven for the child, bringing a quality into pre-school environments.
From an article in Nursery World (Feb, 2004), it stated that the number of children who have speech and language difficulties in day nurseries across the UK is ‘rising fast’, according to a survey of nursery staff, and that the results of the survey by I CAN, the charity the helps children who have speech and language difficulties, found that 89 present of nursery staff were worried that speech, language and communication difficulties among pre-school-age children were growing.
Nursery staff reported more children having problems concentrating, speaking clearly and following instructions. Children often responded with monosyllabic answers or gestures rather than appropriate language. Almost all (96 per cent) of the respondents said they has at least one child with communications difficulties in their nursery, while 10 present said they had at least 10 children with such problems. Respondents of the survey blamed several factors, including a lack of time spent by children and adults talking together, the use of television to pacify child and the trend for parents to talk on behalf of their child instead of letting the child have a say. It shows that the problem is crucial that children with speech and language difficulties have the same opportunities in life as other children.
A study of the transition from infant to Primary in England: from Foundation Stage to Key Stage 1 was carried out in 2005 (Sanders et al,2005), where it was discovered the biggest challenge to children being the move from play-based approach in the Foundation Stage to a more structured curriculum in Key Stage 1. It also noted that the Literacy Hour had proved challenging as it was difficult for young children to sit still and listen to their teacher.
In European countries, the transition to primary school (age of 6) is linked with a play-based exploratory curriculum to a more formal one. In England the transition begins around the age of 5, and into a more formal curriculum one year later (Sanders et al, 2005). This report also highlighted the question that staff may not be appreciating the anxiety for children and parents at this time, which proves quite surprising.
The recommendations of the report included: a communication between staff of Foundation Stage, staff in Year 1 and parents to plan for the child’s needs; that School’s should have resources to enable the children in Year 1 to have play-based activities, for role play, construction and outdoor learning; that formal sitting and listen in Year 1 should be reduced, and more opportunities for learning through play; and that there is a further need for research into this transition.
In February of this year a study (FGP 2006) was carried out in the Fusion 240 state funded Pre-K programs for 4 year-olds. The assessment was selecting one classroom at random, and within that classroom four children were chosen for individual assessment in the areas of language, literacy and number skills. The major findings in this study are reproduced here.
• More than half of the children enrolled were from low-income families.
• African American, Latino, and Asian children were more likely than White children to be in a Pre-K class with a high concentration of poor children.
• A large percentage of the mothers had only a high school education or less.
• Almost one-quarter of the children spoke a language other than English at home.
• With their entry into Pre-K, the language ability of most children from low-income families was below the national average, as was their math ability. On standard measures of language and math, these children made small but meaningful gains from fall to spring of their Pre-K year.
• They averaged 42 years of age; most were female and White.
• Overall, about 70% of teachers had at least a bachelor’s degree.
• About half had at least a bachelor’s degree and state certification to teach 4-year-olds.
• About 30% had a two-year degree or no formal degree past high school.
• Pre-k teachers’ salaries were higher than those of child care teachers and approached the salaries of public school teachers.
• Teachers with lower qualifications (less than a bachelor’s degree)were more likely to teach poor children and children who were African American or Latino.
The finding’s highlighted the concerns of teachers not being able to give the high quality experiences required to those children that need it most. It also reveals that using the widely used measure of classroom quality of Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale-Revised(where a score of 7 is ‘excellent’, a score of 5 is ‘good’, and a score of 3 is ‘minimal’) the average score was 3.86. This score is disappointment to all concerned, considering the enthusiasm, and shows an environment that is not able to take full advantage of learning opportunities for young children.
These findings were endorsed by Kauerz (2006) who states that although Pre-K provides crucial gains in achievement, especially in reading and math’s, it is only short term due to what is termed as ‘the fade-out problem’. This problem is that the advantage that the child has gained could be lost (60-80%) during the first two years of elementary school, when joining a year/class that includes children of a lower level(those that did not participate so early).
They are held back whilst the teacher’s attention is put to those of a lower standard. It also has an effect if the elementary school that the child from high-quality Pre-K joins is of low quality. This factor is covered widely in research in the USA as entry is entirely dependent on residential location, therefore it could be a problem for children from low-income families.
Yet on the positive side, Campbell, Miller-Johnson, Sparling &Ponselle (2001); National Research Council (2001); Steinhart et al(2005) all confirm that through rigorous research high quality early childhood experiences produce impressive life-time benefits to society including fewer grade retentions, fewer special education placements, increased high-school graduation rates, and finally increased employment earnings (Buyers, 2006).
Statement of scope and aims of the study
The aim of this study is to discover and evaluate how schools use play as an educational tool for children aged 5 to 6 years of age. Along with how it is used in line with the National Curriculum and Early Years learning objectives. The study will investigate if play is used enough in school, and which benefits come from this, with finally, to support these findings, an overview of studies completed in other countries, on the subject of play in education.
The sample size will be thirty, which is less than perfect, but in the small time frame allowed it will produce a representative sample that will be supportive of this papers aim.
Section A – the justification
The method used in the design of this research as a factual enquiry, the following were considered:
• The aims of the study and theories to be investigated
• Reviewing the relevant literature: interested organizations
• Preliminary conceptualization of the study
• Deciding on the design of the study and assessing its feasibility within the limitations
• Deciding which hypotheses will be investigated
• Designing the required research instrument and technique: postal questionnaires
• Drawing the sample: who to interview
• Doing the field work
• Processing the data
• Assembling the results
• Writing the research report
A study of this nature is a complex operation, and a first requirements therefore the development of a clear plan, overall research design. It is the research design that must hold all the parts and phases o
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