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Role of Play in the Curriculum

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Childcare
Wordcount: 3465 words Published: 21st Nov 2017

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Assignment Three

  • Task 1. Examine the statutory requirements for children to identify the role of play in the curriculum. What is the role of play in the curriculum? Justify your arguments using evidence from the statutory requirements.
  • Task 2. Analyse the potential for play based development across the range of non-statutory contexts. Identify a range of non-statutory contexts eg. playgroups, day nurseries, child-minders etc. and analyse the ways in which children’s development can be advanced through the play opportunities provided.

Play includes a diversity of activities, games and interactions which create enjoyment and satisfaction for children. With years of research and observation of the impacts from children embracing play, we can now understand that it is an indispensable part of learning and is also a crucial benefactor within Northern Ireland in regards to the National Curriculum including the Foundation stage. These observations and assessments regarding the usefulness of play in relation to learning within the Early Years sector has allowed us to update our Curriculum accordingly.

The Foundation Stage in education located in Northern Ireland includes the first two years of compulsory education, which is primary one and primary two classes ranging from the ages of 4 years to 6 years old. In Northern Ireland, children begin education at the foundation stage at an earlier age than anywhere else in the world. As it is believed, in the earlier years of a person’s life, their brain is at its most active, meaning that the earlier a child begins education, the more they will know. The transition from nursery school is then needed to be taken in gentle steps practicing care and sensitivity, allowing the process to be easier on the child’s understanding as they move into a higher learning level.

The Foundation Stage outlined within the Northern Ireland National Curriculum provides educators with the opportunities to teachers to build up children’s dispositions and also allows teachers to build on children’s social skills as they are interacting with other children of their age and learning new skills off their new friends.

Children learn a great deal through play. In the Northern Ireland curriculum, play is a vital contributor as children recognise that as they play, they learn and develop. The children identify play with fun, excitement, exploration and enjoyment, which allows them to rapidly learn from what they are doing without taking away from the experience. Play allows for children to gain knowledge in a wide variety of topics, such as the arts, mathematics, the world around us and so on. As play varies from one person to another, this allows for no play experience to be the same, and as play is individual and original to each person, they will be continuous learning and progressing if provided with the appropriate resources that are age and capability appropriate.

Throughout many years, practitioners have gained great insight on the value and importance of play within the early years, as it is a significant factor in promoting and influencing physical, social, emotional, cognitive and language development and this can be witnessed through everyday observations of children at play in the early years.

Play is a significant part of the early years foundation stage in northern Ireland as it allows younger children to access the curriculum in an age appropriate manner, throughout a variety of play contexts. The significance of play within our curriculum relates back to how we can allow all children, no matter their situation, whether they are poor, rich, disabled, Chinese, Asian and so on, learn in the early years, and play is an accessible resource to all children, leaving no individual without an education at a young age.

An important document, provided by the Northern Ireland Curriculum, entitled “Learning through play” addresses how children learn effectively from a variety of play contexts, where a select range are targeted in depth within the text, these include:

  • Learning through Dramatic Play
  • Learning through Sand Play
  • Learning through Water Play
  • Learning through Dough and Clay Play
  • Learning through Table Top Play
  • Learning through Small World Play
  • Learning through Construction Play
  • Learning through Creative Play

There are many benefits of these areas of play, such as with sand play, this can allow children to develop understanding and increase their knowledge through their senses. By exploring the different and changing textures of sand, children learn through their sense of touch, this area of play can also trigger mathematical knowledge as the children can discover capacity, volume, weight and aspects of gravity as the children manipulate different sand toys to gain mathematical knowledge. This is one simple, fun and effective way for children to access the curriculum. Within my current setting, which is a primary one class within a statutory school, there are sand play facilities indoors and outdoors with a range of tools children can use. With relevant topics in the curriculum, we are able to change these tools and equipment around to become more relevant to the current topic. One example was during the month associated around “People Who Help Us”, we implemented our indoor sand area into a construction side by providing the children with spades, shovels, toy diggers, I even printed off a range of construction site signs to make the experience more holistic and realistic for the children, enabling them to become more easily immersed. Experimental, free-flow and imaginative play are all included within this area, targeting many aspects of the curriculum, providing more information for early learning and targeting children’s development.

Water play is extremely similar to sand play, developing logical thinking through the senses and providing knowledge of the world around us, early physics and early mathematics. The NI Curriculum explains that Water play benefits children in many ways, such as tackling and enhancing their personal, social and emotional development, physical development, creative development and knowledge and appreciation of the Environment.

Personal, Social and Emotional development is influenced in this area of play by children working independently, co-operating with others, taking turns and sharing toys or equipment, enjoying the sensory nature of water by adding colours or other items such as glitter or various temperatures.

Physical development is enhanced through developing fine motor skills by manipulating tools, filling, pouring, emptying, stirring, squeezing, pushing, pulling etc. and developing hand/eye co-ordination by filling and emptying containers of different sizes.

Creative development improves through observing colour change through adding paint or food colouring, introduction of marbling techniques, and by creating sounds in the water by blowing or splashing.

Finally, knowledge and appreciation of the environment is enhanced by children talking about water in local environment, home, rivers, pond, beach, adding equipment from local environment to stimulate imaginative play e.g. shells, sea weed, pebbles, rocks, fishing nets, hoses, watering cans talk about occupations where water plays a significant role e.g. fishermen, firemen, sailors, farmers, plumbers and talk about animals and creatures that live in water e.g. fish, crocodiles.

Water play is an everyday occurrence within my placement setting, attracting a wide range of children who are all eager to play in this area. This is another beneficial and effective way for children to access the curriculum as through my experience, I have seen every child learn subconsciously and have fun at the same time.

On the whole, the role of play within our curriculum is to simply enable children to learn effectively, through enjoyment and without realising they are learning as the child is distracted by objects, games, activities and tasks which interest them. Play is used within our curriculum to promote children’s development in a range of contexts, allowing them to grow at a specific pace by providing them with the educational and fun resources they need to do so.

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Play is an effective way to allow for a child’s exploration, which in turn promotes knowledge and skills they will require in adulthood. Play will allows for the provision of a range of experiences and opportunities for children to create the foundations for their learning and gain for this in the most beneficial and rewarding ways. Wood, E (2013) explains how

Playing and growing are synonymous with life itself. Playfulness bespeaks creativity and action, change and possibility of transformation. Play activity this reflects the very existence of the self, that part of the organism that exists both independently and interdependently, that can reflect upon itself and be aware of its own existence. In being playful the child attains a degree of autonomy sustained by representations of his inner and outer worlds.”

This is a further representation of the importance of play and how it can provide a beneficial impact upon children by ensuring this is an everyday routine in their educational lives. Play is implemented within the Northern Ireland as it is a proven way to improve children’s effective learning amongst provision for many other aspects of their development.

In conclusion, I believe throughout my own experiences over the past two years, alongside the permanent implementation of play within our Northern Ireland Curriculum, I believe play is an efficient, effective and inspirational way for children to access the curriculum and therefore, effectively learn. The role of play is to simply enable children to learn through enjoyment and in turn, promote their growth and development, sculpting their future, and is therefore, a crucial aspect of our curriculum.

Analyse the potential for play based development across the range of non-statutory contexts. Identify a range of non-statutory contexts eg. Playgroups, day nurseries, child-minders etc. and analyse the ways in which children’s development can be advanced through the play opportunities provided.

It has been recognised how play is implemented widely across our Northern Ireland Curriculum affecting the foundation stage of education, in place within statutory requirements (5 to 16 years old), however, there is great potential for play in non-statutory settings, such as playgroups, pre-school groups, afterschool groups, crèches and day nurseries etc. We have evaluated how successful play is for promoting children’s learning and development within the statutory settings, and it should be recognised that it can have similar effects within non-compulsory areas of child care.

All of these non-statutory contexts provide a range of play activities with the aim of improving and increasing children’s opportunities to learn and develop. Whether these contexts a child attends is before compulsory education such as parent and toddler groups, or in sync with their statutory, like after school programmes, there is a significant emphasis on play within each. These settings recognise the needs of the child and promote many way for their development to be enhanced.

In my experience, I have witnessed the potential of play within preschool groups. This is particular area in which I gained the most experience, the reason for focus upon this area. With pre-school programs, it can be argued that these settings provide the foundations for learning as the child is attending a setting which provides a minority of educational activities, mainly based upon play which introduce the child to concepts of play during the earlier stages of their life. This may potentially make it easier for them to settle into statutory settings as they have had some experience of a setting which provides set activities to initiate learning and create dispositions.

Throughout the attendance to pre-school groups, children may bring with them a variety of personal and social skills, values and attitudes. The children have achieved from relationships and experiences within the home and the immediate environment and it is vital that these should be recognised and adopted within the setting.

The needs of a pre-school child are defined within the textbook Curriculum Guidance for Preschool education (1997) which are as follows:

“Young children require:

• A safe, secure, healthy and stimulating environment where there is adequate supervision;

• Opportunities to investigate, satisfy their curiosity, explore the environment inside and outside the playroom, extend their sense of wonder, experience success and develop a positive attitude towards learning;

• Appropriate periods of time for learning through sustained involvement in play;

• Interaction with sensitive and understanding adults.”

Given these needs it follows that young children require a curriculum which:

• meets their physical, social, emotional and cognitive needs at their particular stage of development;

• motivates, challenges and stimulates them;

• is broad and balanced, allowing children to make choices and providing them with opportunities, through play and other experiences, to develop the learning associated with:

These settings are completely non-compulsory but however, are a beneficial way of taking the stress of parents, providing effective care for children, and of course, providing an earlier structure for their education. The pre-school groups can include playgroups, nursery schools, parent and toddler groups and so on.

Minett, P (2010) outlines the benefits of preschool groups in the book Child Care and Development explaining how a professionally effective and successful preschool group will contribute to a child’s early education by providing them with:

  • Opportunities to socialise and learn how to mix with other children and adults and to enjoy their company;
  • Facilities which include space to run around, apparatus to climb, toys, paints, paper, modelling dough etc;
  • Activities such as stories, music, dancing, singing and games;
  • Activities which encourage early familiarity with letters and numbers, to help children acquire pre-reading and pre-counting skills”

This book helps to outline a variety of successful ways of promoting education and a good start into learning for a child during the earlier years of life. Play is the main contributor within many non-statutory settings I have worked within. For example, a Day Nursery in which I worked, the children were aged between birth and two years of age within the room I worked. Here, the children had a wide variety of play activities available to them, ranging from dolls, cars, musical and sensory instruments, treasure boxes attending to sensory development, and outdoor play with a range of resources available during the dry months.

Outdoor play has a significant role within a child’s learning and development as it helps to take on the areas of imaginative, creative and exploration play, which introduce young children to new opportunities to learn and gain understanding of the world around them.

The children’s routines from 7:30am to 6:30pm, which are the most common hours of preschool groups, revolve around a strong influence upon play, with the staff changing the available resources throughout the day so that children do have a change, meaning they do not get bored, leading to a lack of appropriate play provision and therefore, not promoting learning. By the rotation of different play activities, arts and crafts, games and creative tasks, this setting provides a successful way of implementing play into a daily routine providing learning for young babies and children. The setting I worked within cares for children of the ages birth to eight years of age, once again another commonly seen restriction within preschool groups. The rooms are usually a “Babies” room, “Wobblers” room, “Toddlers” room and an after school programme, which are implemented within my day nursery setting. Within this setting it was extremely important that children felt secure in their relationships with adults and that felt that the adults are there to support them by ensuring adults who working within the setting understood to treat them as individuals and sensitively participate in their play.

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Justice, L et al (2008) explain some of the effects upon children’s development in which preschool groups’ target. Research was conducted over time involving two separate groups of children, some of which attended preschool groups, and others who did not. At the end of the term year, these children were assessed on their skills and abilities. These results have provided significant evidence of the effects of attending preschool for a short period of time. The findings suggested that “children who attended a Perry Preschool Program were more likely to graduate from high school on time and to own a home and less likely to be referred for special education, to receive Welfare as an adult, and to commit crimes”. These results show significant impact on a child’s life, as a child’s cognitive development will be enhanced as suggested by the results as they are more likely to graduate, showing logical potential and thinking being higher than those who do not attend preschool groups. Social and emotional development is also targeted, as suggested, those who commit crimes are more likely to be children who did not attend preschool groups, showing anti-social behaviour which in turn shows how their emotions have been affected more negatively than others, resulting in crime.

In conclusion, I believe that these non-statutory settings provide children with broad play opportunities all contributing to their learning, growth and development. A child does not need to attend only compulsory to gain the most from a setting in terms of their experiences towards learning, in fact, I believe to promote a healthy and positive approach to learning, a child should attend some form of non-statutory setting to help them to embrace the younger years of life where learning is at its fastest and gain dispositions. Appropriate opportunities should be provided in throughout pre-school settings and afterschool programmes for children to develop personal and social skills, values and attitudes.


Broadhead, P et al (2010) Play and Learning in the Early Years. SAGE.

Else, P (2009) The Value of Play. Continuum.

Fromberg, D (2012) Play from Birth to Twelve: Contexts, Perspectives and Meanings. Routledge.

Justice, L et al (2008) Achieving Excellence in Preschool Literacy Instruction. Guilford Press.

Lockett, A (2004) Continuous Curriculum: Planning for Spontaneous Play. CHYPS Learning.

Minett, P (2010) Child Care and Development. Hodder Education.

Northern Ireland Curriculum (2014) Available: http://www.nicurriculum.org.uk/

Northern Ireland Curriculum (2014) Learning through Play. Available: http://www.nicurriculum.org.uk/docs/foundation_stage/learning_through_play_ey.pdf

Reifel, R (1999) Play Contexts Revisited. Greenwood Publishing Group.

Sluss, D (2014) Supporting Play in Early Childhood: Environment, Curriculum, Assessment. Cengage Learning.

Tassoni, P (2005) Planning Play in the Early Years. Heinemann.

Wood, E (2013) Play, Learning and the Early Childhood Curriculum. SAGE.

Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum (1997) Curricular Guidance for Preschool Education. Available: http://www.deni.gov.uk/preschool_curricular-2.pdf

Courtney Hill



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