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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.
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.
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.
- To find out what knowledge parents have of the Early Years Foundation stage.
- To gather information on what parents understand are the benefits of play as a learning tool in the foundation stage classroom.
- To gain insight into what parents views are of a play based curriculum compared with a more ‘traditional’ curriculum.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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