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What connections do you make between children's learning and Play?
There is no concise definition to cover all the characteristics of the term ‘to play', however the Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb play as, to ‘engage in games or other activities for enjoyment rather than for a serious or practical purpose' (Oxford, 2008). The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS, 2008) describes play as an essential tool for learning and development. Therefore, if both statements are true, we can assume play is an enjoyable and productive way to encourage and support the journey of life long learning.
‘Play underpins all development and learning for young children. Most children play spontaneously, although some may need adult support, and it is through play that they develop intellectually, creatively, physically, socially and emotionally.' (EYFS, 2008:7) Although most people believe this to be true, there is a lack of supporting research to show consistent development through play. Some teachers see play in different ways, and it is important for practitioners to understand and utilize all types of play in order to provide the best learning opportunities.
As long ago as 1967, the Plowden report had great influence on how play should be a key part of early years education. Practitioners over the years have also voiced their opinions on the importance of keeping play central. Influences such as these have helped to ensure that play is implemented into education, and this can be seen in the Early years foundation stage play based requirements and curriculum of today. (Tassoni & Hucker,2000:30)
Play is something pleasurable which most people encounter throughout their lives. Through play, children can explore new situations and the world around them; It can provide a ‘non-threatening way to cope with new learning and still retain self-esteem and self image' (Worthington, 2007). Within the classroom, it can act as a less formal approach of learning, in which children may feel more comfortable, and more able to express their thoughts and feelings. Because of this, children may feel more confident and find it more enjoyable and less daunting, to learn through the context of play.
Learning through play can be achieved best ‘through hands-on experience, through enjoyment and challenge, through freedom to develop.' (Macintyre: 2001:106) Piaget believed that children were active participants in their own learning (Lindon, 2001:28).Play contributes to different aspects of a childs learning; ‘Play is a very powerful tool for developing language' (Tassoni & Hucker, 2000:7). Role play, for example, is a great way for children to try out new words or to develop understanding or use of sentences. Language in play can be developed through discussions, asking questions , explaining rules etc. Friedrich Froebel believed that if adults provide the right environment and activities, children will develop positive moral issues. (Tassoni & Hucker, 2000:16) In addition, it contributes to communication and social skills, developing the ability to play alongside, take turns, share and listen to others. Through play children can become aware of the needs and feelings of others, and themselves. Lev Vygotsky, with thoughts similar to that of Froebel, believed in childrens own learning, that they will play with whatever is available. He also believed that the social context in which children learn plays a major role. His theories of the Zone of Proximal Development suggest that through interaction and support from adults and peers, children can extend the possibilities of their development. (Lindon, 2001:31)
Some believe that ‘Play is unpredictable and fluid. To be true play, an activity must be directed by the players.' (David & Powell, 2007:19) The benefits of true play (also referred to as free play) and structured play are often compared. Experts believe that children hold interest and are more likely to remember play that they have created themselves, as it has more meaning for them. (Tassoni & Hucker, 2004) For the majority of children, I believe this statement is true. During a school placement, I observed a variety of activities including free play, structured play and activities which combined elements of both. During a ‘Dinocraft' activity, I provided children with materials and basic instructions. They used their imaginations, discussion and free choice of materials and techniques to construct dinosaurs, developing fine motor as well as speaking and listening skills. The children asked for help when needed and had the opportunity to flourish independently. I agree it is important to allow children the choice and ownership of what they are doing, however within this activity, I feel that some structure or guidance was needed, as it helped the children understand the basic idea of the activity and to consider aspects of safety.
By providing children with a limited amount of structure, there is opportunity to develop skills and understanding within areas of the curriculum that the teacher might not anticipate. During my placement, I observed children making houses for dinosaurs using Duplo. Some children lost interest in the intended aim of the activity, and started to count out the blocks- to see who had the most, whilst some arranged them into different groups of colour. This extended the learning outcomes of the activity from not only creative development and knowledge and understanding of the world, but also to developing some aspects of problem solving, reasoning and numeracy. (EYFS, 2008)
Throughout my placement, the majority of children preferred the freedom of independent play. However, sometimes children favoured the activities that included instruction or reassurance and support. This may have been due to lack of confidence or ability, or due to difference in learning dispositions; It is important that a range of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic experiences are provided within a learning environment, so that all types of learners are catered for. It is also important for practitioners to establish a purposeful and safe learning environment conducive to learning, and to identify opportunities for learners to learn in out-of-school contexts. (TDA, QTS-Q30) This is a standard that should be met in all years, although early years practitioners in particular should realise that within their setting, is a child's introduction to education, therefore extremely important that children should take pleasure in this time at school.
To ensure inclusive learning within the classroom, it is vital that practitioners are able to adapt teaching styles, learning opportunities and behaviour management techniques, to personalise learning and provide opportunities for all children to achieve their full potential. (TDA, QTS-Q10) The EYFS suggests that 80% of child observations should focus on children's independent play. (EYFS, 2008) Regardless of the age, observations of children's interests should inform the planned curriculum; through observations teachers can understand where children ‘are' in their learning and general development which can inform the plans for new or extended learning. (Moyles, 1991) By providing an environment with access to different types of resources and opportunity that are linked to children interests, rather than what is thought to be needed or seen as the norm, children are more likely to want to get involved, and therefore enjoy learning through play. (Selleck, 2004)
In conclusion, I agree that ‘Play is a child's main business in life; through play he learns the skills to survive and finds some pattern in the confusing world into which he was born.' (Lee, 1997:340) Play encourages children to explore new situations and learn for themselves, and/or to develop and act on current knowledge and understanding in an enjoyable, informal and undemanding way.
Play can support a variety of areas of learning and development, but it is important for practitioners to have a sound knowledge and understanding of not only the children they teach, but also of the different types of play, in order to provide the most productive support to aid children's learning.
I feel Early Years practitioners in particular should value the importance of play, and appreciate that a significant part of a child's life, (learning most in the first 3 years of life quote) therefore learning and development and understanding will occur in their settings.
Although reflected in the EYFS documentation as an essential tool for learning, I feel play is not only important within the early years, but right throughout a child's life. It is vital for children to have access to a range of rich and enjoyable opportunities to play, which in turn, provide an exciting, active approach to learning.
Tina bruce- 4/5 things that play offers children e.g to be able to go beynd here and now
Wilson-Quote-‘taste the magic of language through drama and role play'
- David, T & S. Powell (2007) ‘ “Play and learning”- Beginning at the beginning' in Moyles, J. (3rd Ed) (2007) Beginning Teaching, Beginning Learning, Maindenhead: Open University Press
- DCSF (2008) Department for Children Schools and Families: The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS): DCSF Publications. Also available at: http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/eyfs/ (accessed 03/2010)
- Lee, C. (1997). The Growth and Development of Children. London: Longman
- Lindon, J (2001) Understanding Children's play. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes Ltd
- Macintyre, C. (2001). Enhancing Learning Through Play. London: David Fulton Publishers
- Moyles, J (1991) Just Playing? Buckingham: Open University Press
- OUP Oxford; New Ed of 3rd revised edition (2008) Compact Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Selleck, D. (2004) ‘Being under 3 years of age: enhancing quality experiences' pp 79-84, in Miller, L and Devereux,J. (eds.) (2004) Supporting children's learning in the early years. David Fulton Publishers
- Tassoni, P. & K. Hucker (2000). Planning Play and the Early Years. Oxford: Heinemann
- Worthington, M. (2007) ‘“Multi-modality”-Multi-modal mening through play' in J. Moyles ( 3rd Ed.) Beginning Teaching, Beginning Learning, Maidenhead: Open University Press