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Play is essential in child’s early years. In my model of play, every area is interrelated in regards to play. Play can happen at any point of time and at any place. From a child’s perspective, play is enjoyable and imaginative. Educators play an important role in planning play activities in the curriculum and to sustain their thinking. Background of the family reflects how children play at home and with their peers. In my model of play, a cultural-historical theory drives my play practices. According to Vygotsky, “Children will give new meaning to objects in their play in order to progress imaginary play” and to understand reality by learning how people work through role-playing (Fleer, 2013). He also continued that professionals in early childhood will contribute in children’s play through interactions in sustained shared thinking and through play connections with children (Fleer, 2013). Thus; my model of play revolves around these important aspects for a child – culture, play, educator, curriculum, family and educator. Each aspect will be further explaining in the following:
Cultural –historical view of play can be reflected in my model of play. In this model, children engaged in both structured and unstructured play. In unstructured play, children will develop a state of mind, helping them to deal with feelings or challenges in their life and at the same time, providing opportunities for them to explore different ways in doing things (Bruce, 2011). From a child’s perspective, they use very minimal effort to move between play and real world (Edmiston, 2008). When they play, they create imaginary situations. These imaginary situations are based on their real-world experiences and children give new senses to their movements and objects (Fleer, 2013). I observed how these two girls, Ann (three years old) and May (six years old) playing at the kitchen corner. They are creating imaginary situations. In their play, they take on roles. They pretend to be mother and baby. As they are in their imaginary situations, children began to move away from reality. They became more detailed in taking their roles.
In my observations, Ann began to sound like a baby and will seek attention from her “mother”. Both children learn about everyday concepts as they observe how their mother takes care of baby. From there, they also picked up scientific concepts about movement like walking, carrying baby dolls and cuddling.
The family background of the child sets conditions for play. Usually, children imitate the role of the people they have most contact with. For example, if children will imitate the role of the teacher when they are at home; or in school, they will take on the role of their mother as they had been observing how she manages the kitchen daily. As children develop their play, they adopt the role and create their make-believe stories. In my observations on my play model, Ann and May adopt the roles of mother and baby and they moved on to puppetry play and bake cookies. When children are in play, children move in and out of imaginary situations (Fleer, 2013). They use special languages to communicate to draw a line between real worlds and play experiences. Children also use their language based on their family background. As May and Ann are Malays, they have included their mother tongue in their play conversations. They used, “ka kak” which means sister in their conversation. This also explains that culture reflects on how children interact in their play experiences. It frames on how children play occurs based on their everyday experiences. In Vygotsky’s theory, he noted that a child’s daily life experiences sets and frames on how play may occur and children will not play freely (Fleer, 2010).
In my school, we believe that children learn through play. In our planning, we engage children in purposeful play and as well as free play. Thus, we do not provide worksheets for children to work on. For example, children (aged 3 years old) will be hunting for items associated with letter ‘f’, explore what they can do their feet and traced the letter by walking on the letter. As children are still developing their fine motor skills, teachers should not be stressing if the child is able to write. Instead, teachers can work on their gross motor skills and they learn through kinetic movements. From children’s perspective, they view it as play as they get to walk, jump and most importantly, it is enjoyable and fun.
In my school, children also participated in projects. We lead provocation through their play activities. During the interactions, teachers and children are involved sustained shared thinking. Sustained shared thinking is an effective interaction where two or more parties and “working together” to understand concepts, cracking a problem and extending conversations and activities (Siraj-Blatchford, 2007). In our play incidents during our project, we sustain children’s thinking by asking open-ended questions.
Our curriculum is also tied closely to Ministry of Education (MOE) kindergarten framework. In a Kindergarten Learning Forum opening speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, she mentioned that MOE strongly believes that the critical principle of learning in the early years is engaging in learning through purposeful play (MOE, 2012). They believe that children will learn through purposeful play as they are feeling competent about their ability to learn and develop their physical, cognitive, emotional and social skills. In my centre, we believe that children are competent and engage children in both purposeful play and as well as free play. Therefore, my model of play ties in closely with my school’s curriculum which we encourage children to learn through play and as well as referring to MOE’s kindergarten framework to support children in purposeful play activities.
As educators, we play critical role in sustaining children in play. We need look into our pedagogical role in engaging children in play. As children change the meaning of objects we have to look into the depth of play experiences to ensure that these play experiences benefit the children. When a purposeful play activity happens, Educators have to thoughtfully plan the activities with appropriate resources and materials for children to explore. Teachers have to constantly reflect on their teaching practices to see whether their planned activities are inviting children’s interest to be engaged and learning (Lim, 2010). Thus, teachers should provide a variety of play activities in child’s learning and a balance of play and work activities. These balance of play and work activities should include unstructured play to structured play such as from child-initiated play to teacher directed play.
Educators should also take note of the sensitivity interaction between child and adult in play and playful experiences activities. Some play does not have to be guide by adults but educators should note that they have to be around even though it is free play for children. Even though the school has a strong curriculum, teachers have to be culturally sensitive to understand each and every child who enters to the classroom. Thus, as educators, we should not be stereotyping the children through similar characteristics of the children. Instead, we should take time to listen to the children when they are at play and interactions before we really make any conclusions on the child’s need and making it into his or her individual goals. This also explains that educators are also assessing for play. In Fleer’s (2010) explanation, assessment for play is how educators assess formative assessment and summaries the assessment at the end of a project or event.
While observing the children, we also assess the children through play. This helps educators to do their observations and analyse when children are engaged entirely in play activities (Fleer, 2013). Teachers play a critical how in documenting down these play moments. Documentations can be recorded down in photographs, children’s voices or drawing which children is comfortable with and they can be displayed in the classroom. From all these play moments, children can find out what do they want to find out, and apply their knowledge gained from their inquiry. Fahey (as cited in Fleer, 2013) reasons in inquiry learning, that it is important to provide children the chance to ask questions, clarifying points and to be engaged in the topics which they are interested. This is also useful and going in depth of the child’s play so that learning can be furthered in play (Fleer, 2013).
Teachers and children can also review their play activities in a form of KWL chart. This helps children to revisit the play activities and find out what they have learnt and how they can apply their knowledge gain in other situations.
Another aspect to discuss is the environment conditions and affordances in play. I believe that environment has an impact in play practices. Whether it is at school, community or at home, it provides different opportunities for the child to learn in daily life.
At school, based on child’s interest, educators can then work on setting up the relevant resources in the classroom. Hedges (as cited in Lim, 2010) even inspire teachers to work together with children and sharing responsibility in order to have a child-initiated curriculum where teachers and children can co-construct appropriate and meaningful knowledge.
In my school setting we believe that the environment is the third teacher. From a child’s perspective, the visual influences interaction and developing thinking and learning (Strong-Wilson & Ellis, 2007).
As our school is inspired by Reggio Emilia, it advocates that teachers to take note to the numerous ways to use the space to invite interactions (Strong-Wilson & Ellis, 2007). To encourage children to participate in their culture community and to engage in meaningful play activities, teachers who are influenced by Reggio Emilia have capitalize on the environment’s potential as a developmental niche where children acquire knowledge skills and understandings (New, 2007). Thus, at my school setting, the classroom has wide windows to allow natural light to shine through the class. The resources used in the classroom are closest to the natural materials such as twigs, leaves, branches. This can form part of children’s play as they use these materials to create new meanings and interact with their peers and teachers. The environment also reflects school’s basis in John Dewey’s educational philosophy and Vygotsky’s social constructivist learning theory (Tarr, 2001). Both theorists “believe that children can best create meaning and make sense of their world through living in complex, rich environments which support complex, varied, sustained, and changing relationships between people, the world of experience, ideas and the many ways of expressing ideas” (Tarr, 2001, p.7).
The outdoor environment also supports in children’s play. In my school, children are encouraged to engage in outdoor play activities. As my school setting are able to afford big spaces for children, we have the space for water play and sand play. This provides children to be exposed to a variety of play activities be it in classroom or outdoors.
With reference to cultural-historical theory, play is learned in families (Fleer, 2013). Families can engage children in play and they can learn to pick up valued skills. For an example, parents will do house chores and from a child’s perspective, it is a play and fun activity in helping their parents. In this case, play has developed into an activity which children have contributed to the family. I feel that families should not neglect children’s play at home or when they are with them. Involving families in children’s play can motivate the child in learning and exploring new things, and fostering relationship between them.
In conclusion, play is leading activity (Fleer, 2013) in a child’s life. By viewing at how each and every aspect contributes to play, as an educator, I have to constantly reflect on my teaching practices on how I can engage children in play. As technology has been moving rapidly, children are more engaged in technology such as iPad, children may forgo about playing physically with peer interactions. Thus, families and educators should be reminded that there should also be a balance between play activities for the child to be engaged and learn.
Bruce, T. (2011). Learning through play: for babies, toddlers and young children (2nd ed.). London: Hodder Education.
Edmiston, B. (2008). Chapter 1. Ethics in play. In B. Edmiston. Forming ethical identities in early childhood play, pp. 1 – 24. New York: Routledge.
Fleer, M. (2010). Chapter 2. Parallel conceptual worlds. In Early learning and development: cultural-historical concepts in play, pp.20 -32. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Fleer, M. (2013). Play in the Early Years. Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
Lim, S. M-Y. (2010). Reconsidering the play-work dichotomy in pedagogy. In M. Ebbeck & M. Waniganayake (eds.). : Learning in diverse contexts, pp.141 -156. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Ministry of Education. (2012). Kindergarten learning forum. Retrieved June 19, 2014, from http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/2012/11/20/opening-address-by-ms-indranee-rajah-at-kindergarten-learning-forum-2012.php
New, R. S. (2007). Reggio Emilia as cultural activity theory in practice. Theory into Practice, 46(1), 5-13.
Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2007). Creativity, communication and collaboration: The identification of pedagogic progression in sustained shared thinking. Asia-Pacific Journal of Research in Early Childhood Education, 1(2), 3-23.
Strong-Wilson, T., & Ellis, J. (2007). Children and place: Reggio Emilia’s environment as third teacher. Theory into practice, 46(1), 40-47.
Tarr, P. (2001). Aesthetic Codes in Early Childhood Classrooms: What Art Educators Can Learn from Reggio Emilia.
Name: Loo Si Hui Student ID: 25687514 Page 1
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