Is Play a Useful Educational Tool in the Early Years? | Education

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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 ChiefInspector of Schools in England, was reported in the Sunday Telegraph,31 August 2003 in saying that too many children are not ready forschool due to their "disrupted and disheveled" upbringing. As a result,the verbal and behavioural skills of the nation's five-year-olds wereat an all-time low, causing severe difficulties for schools

Much has been stated in this country over the problems that children of5 to 6 years of age face with their education. The Government's ChiefInspector of Schools has been vocal on the subject: In 2003 childrenare starting school less well prepared than ever because parents arefailing to raise their youngsters properly. One of the key causes wasthe failure of parents to impose proper discipline at home, which ledto poor behaviour in class. Another serious concern was the tendency tosit children in front of the television, rather than talking andplaying with them. This meant that many were unable to speak properlywhen they started school, stating that parents were still not doingenough to support teachers. "There is evidence that children's verbalskills are lacking. We should encourage parents to talk to theirchildren and give them a whole range of stimulating things to do andnot just assume that the television, or whatever, will do all that forthem." He added that the deficiencies of pupils starting school couldhave lasting effects, particularly where parents continued to fail tooffer support to teachers. (Sunday Telegraph, 31 August 2003).

At the time a two-part response to this came from a) Ms. Kamini Gadhok(2003) CEO of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists saidbehaviour is very obviously linked to language and it is very hard toseparate one from the other. "It is clear some parents have problemswith their pre-school children. They have the will but sometimes lackthe resources and know-how to cope when faced with a child withlanguage difficulties," "Speech and language therapists are involvedand engaged with some key initiatives, including Sure Start programmes,which bring together early education, childcare, health and familysupport to give a sure start to young children living in disadvantagedareas. Along with b) Talk to Your Baby co-coordinator Liz Attenborough(2003) said: "All parents wish to do their best for their children, butoften lack the confidence or knowledge to implement powerful parentingpractices, such as attentive listening, singing songs, playing rhyminggames and sharing books. Parents need to be empowered to recognisetheir valuable contribution to their child's ability to make sense ofthe 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 holdclasses for parents to teach them how to play with their children in anattempt to stop language skills disappearing from some homes, AlanWells (2003) the head of the Basic Skills Agency told the North ofEngland Conference. Head teachers were reporting a steady rise in whathas been called the "daily grunt" - monosyllabic conversational skillsand a basic lack of language ability that was not connected to theproblems of learning another language. "This is about children sat infront of TVs or their computers, and it's about a lack of familieshaving food together and a general lack of conversation," He alsostated that programmes on a national scale were needed to teach someparents how to play with their children, read to them regularly anddemonstrate conversational skills within the family.

So children's development is questionable, it was reported in theSunday Telegraph in June of 2003 that education researchers, who blameincreased television viewing and the decline of family conversation forthe trend, say that teaching such children the 3Rs is a waste of timebecause they have not yet grasped the basics of language, and thatunbelievable as it seems, some children starting nursery do not seem tohave ever had a one-to-one conversation with anyone. Parents rely ontelevision as a distraction for the child, so they can cope with othermatters in their busy lives, but where does the problem start, and howdo 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 andlearning from reflex action. These actions are the beginnings ofco-ordination, which become patterns of behaviour. This learningprocess of a young child becomes very much that of active rather thanpassive. The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) termed these asschemas, and by way of complex research of into the child'sintellectual development, began to explain the evolution of thinkingfor a child. As the child progresses and grows, their senses ofhearing, seeing and touch are used to great effect to understand allaround them and learn. Through observing the forms of logic andreasoning of children, especially their spontaneous comments, Piagetdeveloped his cognitive theory of qualitative changes, in that childrenthink and reason differently at different periods in their lives whilstgoing through stages of intellectual development. From this researchconcept was introduced four fundamental neurological stages of childdevelopment: sensori-motor, pre-conceptional, intuitive, concreteoperational, 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 sensori-motor: for a mental ageapproximately 0 to 2 years. Developmentally, the first two years of achild's life is very important. Mental structures of the child aremainly concerned with the mastery of concrete object's, very earlyactions, taking place from day 1 to 4 months) involve sucking andgeneral body movements. These are primary actions, mainly the graspingof everything towards it that it comes in contact with. 

As the senses and actions improve, from cycles repeating and theperfecting of co-ordination, Piaget refers to these cycles of action assignificant primary circular reaction. Here new actives appear, withless demand on reflexes. At 4 to 8 months an increase in visual-motorco-ordination allows interests to take place outside of the child'sbody, these secondary circular reactions are basically sensory reflexgrasping by limbs of all that comes in range. Next, at 8 to 12 months,these secondary circular reactions are more refined and incorporatedinto new situations that lead to that of purposeful behaviour. At 12 to18 month's the child will experiment at extending these secondarycircular reactions into tertiary circular reactions, by inventing anddeveloping new ways of completing the required end-result. At plus 18month's, towards the end of this initial stage the child begins torepresent the world in mental images and symbols, and the inception oflanguage allows the depiction of objects in their absence.

It was found that with the child's imagination, the act of play becomesvery important, it allows assimilation and enables the complete unionof sensory experience and motor activity development. Imitation isshown as an example of accommodation, where the child is attempting tomodify behaviour to become someone or something else. The term deferredimitation is where the ability to cope with someone else in theirabsence, and represents a great advance as it shows that the child'sdevelopment is such that it is now able to form images of events thatcan be recalled for future reference (Child, 1997, p 194).

The second stage of development is pre-conceptional: for a mental ageapproximately 2 to 4 years. Here the direct link between sensoryexperiences and motor activity are developed into the intermediateprocess of mental activity, and the acknowledging of symbols starts totake place, which act on the experience and knowledge gained in thefirst stage, due to internalizing imitations and actions. The child'suse of transductive reasoning is evident, where the coincidence of twoevents, possibly non-related, creates a pre-concept.

This period in a child's development is very dominated by symbolicplay, where doll's become babies etc. and direct imitation of whatother people are doing. All this takes place with an egocentric nature,as the child is unable to view things from another person's point ofview. The egocentric nature also stops the child from understandingwhat is seen by way of visual perception, another persons angle of viewis the same as theirs or vice versa.

Part B of the second stage is Intuitive: for a mental age ofapproximately 4 to 7 years. Where the mastery of symbols takes place,by the process of mental activity, acting on all experience andknowledge gained in the previous stage. Being very dependent onsuperficial perceptions of their environment, the development of ideasand understanding of situations are formed by impressions, which arenon-reversible. Meaning the child can only comprehend one relationshipat a time, this occurrence Piaget terms centering, the concentrating onone aspect of a problem and disregarding the rest. This results in alack of conservation of quantity, which relate to problems that involvereorganizing a flexible mass such as water in containers. Because thechild is dependent on superficial perceptions it cannot work theproblem backwards, Child (1997, p.197) outlines the problem of thechild realizing of the mass to its original shape by the compensatingfor changes in the original dimensions. This mental action ofreversibility is a central skill that frees the child from intuitiveimpressions, and enables an appreciation of the change in physicaldimensions without change in the total quantity.
   
Part three of the development stage is concrete operational: for amental age approximately 7 to 11 years. Where the mastery of classes,relations, numbers, and how to reason takes place. The child describesthe environment at the highest levels of abstract reasoning, withconsistent classifications leading to the accurate sorting of similarproperties, resulting in providing valid concepts. This sorting isreferred to as seriation and leads to concrete operational thinking, anessential skill of development.
                   
Finally stage four in the development process is formal operation orabstract thinking - mental age approximately 11 years and up. Where themastery of thought takes place, the highest level of thinking, wherethe person can reason hypothetically and in the absence of materialevidence.

Piaget put each of these four fundamental stages as part of aninvariant sequence, a sequence that could not be broken but could belonger or shorter, and each stage contained major cognitive tasks thathad to be completed for successful intellectual development beforemoving onto the next. These fundamental stages have been the foundationfor teaching and learning, which some educationalists argue to reject.

Margaret Donaldson (1978) argues that the task Piaget used to observechildren was at the time not explained in sufficient detail for them tounderstand. Therefore on the subject of centering (Piaget, stage 2B),the findings are invalid, and Donaldson explains that research intothis task and another of similar design, have been carried out byseveral including Martin Hughes (pp 20-31). The results were dramatic.With thirty children aged between 3 and 5 years, 90% of their responseswere correct, and the youngest ten children with an average age of 3years 9 months, achieved a success rate of 88%. Overall the generalconclusion seems unavoidable: pre-school children are not nearly solimited in their ability to ‘decentre' or appreciate someone else'spoint 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 howcan they be addressed. Other elements to learning exist: that ofdifferent social and ethnic backgrounds, that children learneffectively by playing in a calm environment, that the performance andcycle of learning is enhanced when parent/teacher is eager to bepositive and praise, and when parent/teacher is quick to be negative,the child is reluctant to learn. With these extra elements, the stagesdescribed are not so firmly coupled with age, but as stated, withmental age. This mixture is termed constructivism, the blending ofcognitive psychology and social psychology that dictate adaptivebehavior, not just cognitive alone.

So learning is a constructivist activity. Cognitive development is aprocess in which language is a crucial tool for determining how thechild will learn how to think because advanced modes of thought aretransmitted to the child by means of words.
The Russian theorist, Vygotsky (1962) reached a conclusion that thoughtand speech originate from different processes and then evolve inparallel but independently of each other. Children learn the names ofobjects only when told so. At some point the attitude changes, thechild becomes curious about names of things. At this point the child'svocabulary increases dramatically, with much less coaching from adults,this point in the development of the child is where thought and speechmerge. During the course of development everything occurs more thanonce, in the learning of language our first utterances with peers oradults are for the purpose of communication, but once mastered theybecome internalized and allow inner conversation, and thought undergoesmany changes as it turns into speech. Vygotsky, believes that themeanings of words evolve during childhood, and their meanings aredynamic, not static entities. Tough (1976) found that language andliteracy is directed in the young child by factors such as the size offamily, parents and their educational background, class, language,their situation and location. Therefore the foundation of learning ison social constructivism that involves language & home background;and the importance of play by way of meaningful stimulation thatpromotes intellectual development.

Another argument on Piaget's theories regarding the pre-conceptionalstage, 2A, was by Povey and Hill (1975) showing that the socialactivity of language may have been undervalued, not only as a source ofvariation between children's concept development but also as thevehicle by which children convey their ability to form concepts (Child,1997, p.195). Povey and Hill also found that children up to the age offour gain specific and generic concepts from pictorial information(pictures, drawings).

Moss & Penn (1996) produced a broad evaluation of nursery educationin the UK and out of this concentrated their results on how the earlylearning services had been badly neglected. With continualunder-funding an issue and increased fragmentation; staff poorly paidand trained; low aspirations and lower expectations, their provocativeanalysis of this evaluation also showed that young children are seen asimportant for what they may become, rather than for what they are.

In England children are legally required to start the NationalCurriculum (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 inthe 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 byresearchers at the Frank Porter Graham (FPG) Child DevelopmentInstitute in the USA were formulating plans to develop a rich learningenvironment for pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) that took into account thechild's social, emotional and physical development. Now in 2006 theplans are a reality with FirstSchool, a new vision for early schoolingof children ages 3 to 8. Developed through a partnership amongfamilies, the community, the FPG Child Development Institute and TheUniversity of North Carolina, which together are passionate about thefuture of schools and schooling for young children. The FPG aim is touse this model to inform other educational institutions to guide themto a successful early learning experience for children and families.The early start age reflects the lives of working mothers in today'ssociety, trying to balance work and family life, whilst trying toimprove life chances for their children. Firstschool offers a safe,constructive and significant haven for children, bringing a qualityinto pre-school environments. The problem of childcare for parents onlow 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 aten-year strategy for childcare, published in 2004, which is nowsubject to Parliamentary Approval in 2006 (Education & Skills,2006). It is the Government's response to a fundamental challengefacing Britain in the need to ensure available, affordable, and highquality childcare in the 21st Century.

The problems that face the teaching of Language and Literacy arehighlighted here in examples from the UK and in the USA, yet it isrecognised as a global problem. Many studies have been carried out overyears, highlighting the contribution of high quality early education,which tends to be more targeted at disadvantage children. Thisunderlines the concern of literacy problems in later years, which isbeing addressed now for the education standards of tomorrow.

In the US long term studies in early childcare NICHD (1991) highlightedthe fact of high-quality childcare was found to give a better cognitiveand language ability than children in low-quality care.  It also foundthat children who spent more time in childcare were seen to displaybehavioural problems, such as aggressive tendencies at 4.5 yearsonwards, than children in less care.  The largest and most lastingacademic gains were seen in disadvantaged children.

For the UK the Department for Educational Studies (DfES) funded theEffective Provision of Pre-School Education a longitudinal study in1996, it was an evaluation for children of 3 to 7 years of age inpre-school through into primary from different social backgrounds. Thesummary in Findings from the Early Primary Years (EPPE Summary 2004)where collected data was about the children, parents, home environmentand the pre-school they attended, and proved that cognitive and socialeffects were positive going into primary.

The findings of the study showed that parent's education and socialclass remained as predictors of intellectual and social development,and that very long periods of pre-school were connected withanti-social behavioral problems. This fact was attributed to thepresence of non-parental childcare before three years of age. Theeducation level of the child's mother was also seen to be a majorfactor in the child's performance.

Major findings from the pre-school period included that ofdisadvantaged children benefit significantly from good pre-schoolexperience, especially when they are with a mixture of children fromdifferent backgrounds. It was also found overall, that disadvantagedchildren tend to attend pre-school for shorter periods of time thanthose from more advantaged groups (EPPE Summary 2004). Severalrecommendations were made, that included: to encourage more episodes of‘sustained shared thinking' with the children; work towards an equalbalance of child and adult initiated activity; and ensure that staffhave both the knowledge and understanding of curriculum and childdevelopment.

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 distinctidentity and attention. The six areas of learning became statutory, andthe Act also specified that there should be early learning goals foreach of the areas: Personal, social and emotional development;Communication, language and literacy; Mathematical development;Knowledge and understanding of the world; Physical development; andCreative development. A national consultation on the content of theearly learning goals as set out in Curriculum guidance for thefoundation stage was carried out in autumn 2002.  Following thisconsultation the early learning goals, and use of the Curriculumguidance as a guide, became statutory in March 2002. This new move wasaiming to secure learners participation and ensure appropriateopportunities for them to achieve, and offered flexibility within forschools to develop their own curriculum. It offered a less prescriptiveapproach, in which flexible allocating of time for required subjectsallowed them not to taught each week, term or year, therefore allowingchoice of method and the advancement of teaching and learning. The Actalso established a single national assessment system for the foundationstage, replacing baseline assessment schemes. The Foundation stageprofile was introduced into schools and settings in 2002-3. Thisprofile has 13 summary scales covering the six areas of learning, whichneed to be completed for each child receiving government-fundededucation by the end of his or her time in the foundation stage. TheFoundation Stage developed the key learning skills: listening,speaking, concentration, persistence, learning to work together andco-operating with others, along with the developing of communication,literacy & numeric skills in the preparation for entry into of theNational Curriculum at Key Stage 1.

Progress for the child through the Foundation Stage is categorised asStepping Stones, where developing knowledge can be identified throughthe 13 stages of the Foundation Stage Profile, the assessment of whichis completed in the final year prior to entry into Primary School.Emphasis is placed on successful personal, social and emotionaldevelopment for all, especially those children with behavioural orcommunication difficulties. Throughout, the curriculum requires a safeand secure, rich environment for the child that is vibrant, purposeful,challenging and supportive, where trust for the practitioner isforthcoming, and progress is positive and rewarding.

A prolific body of research in the USA has centered on early childhoodprogrammes, in the state of Carolina, USA, in 2004 plans were beingmade for a start age of 3. Researchers at the Frank Porter Graham (FPG)Child Development Institute were formulating plans to develop a richlearning environment for pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) that took intoaccount the child's social, emotional and physical development. Now in2006 the plans are a reality with FirstSchool, a new vision for earlyschooling of children ages 3 to 8. Developed through a partnershipamong families, the community, the FPG Child Development Institute andThe University of North Carolina, which together are passionate aboutthe future of schools and schooling for young children. The FPG aim isto use this model to inform other educational institutions to guidethem to a successful early learning experience for children andfamilies. The early start age reflects the lives of working mothers intoday's society, yet it also offers a safe, constructive andsignificant haven for the child, bringing a quality into pre-schoolenvironments.

From an article in Nursery World (Feb, 2004), it stated that the numberof children who have speech and language difficulties in day nurseriesacross 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 helpschildren who have speech and language difficulties, found that 89 percent of nursery staff were worried that speech, language andcommunication difficulties among pre-school-age children were growing.Nursery staff reported more children having problems concentrating,speaking clearly and following instructions. Children often respondedwith monosyllabic answers or gestures rather than appropriate language.Almost all (96 per cent) of the respondents said they has at least onechild with communications difficulties in their nursery, while 10 percent said they had at least 10 children with such problems. Respondentsof the survey blamed several factors, including a lack of time spent bychildren and adults talking together, the use of television to pacify achild and the trend for parents to talk on behalf of their childinstead of letting the child have a say. It shows that the problem iscrucial that children with speech and language difficulties have thesame opportunities in life as other children.

A study of the transition from infant to Primary in England: fromFoundation Stage to Key Stage 1 was carried out in 2005 (Sanders et al,2005), where it was discovered the biggest challenge to children beingthe move from play-based approach in the Foundation Stage to a morestructured curriculum in Key Stage 1. It also noted that the LiteracyHour had proved challenging as it was difficult for young children tosit still and listen to their teacher.

In European countries, the transition to primary school (age of 6) islinked with a play-based exploratory curriculum to a more formal one.In England the transition begins around the age of 5, and into a moreformal curriculum one year later (Sanders et al, 2005). This reportalso highlighted the question that staff may not be appreciating theanxiety for children and parents at this time, which proves quitesurprising. The recommendations of the report included: a communicationbetween staff of Foundation Stage, staff in Year 1 and parents to planfor the child's needs; that School's should have resources to enablethe children in Year 1 to have play-based activities, for role play,construction and outdoor learning; that formal sitting and listen inYear 1 should be reduced, and more opportunities for learning throughplay; and that there is a further need for research into thistransition.

In February of this year a study (FGP 2006) was carried out in the USAon 240 state funded Pre-K programs for 4 year-olds. The assessment wasselecting one classroom at random, and within that classroom fourchildren were chosen for individual assessment in the areas oflanguage, literacy and number skills. The major findings in this studyare reproduced here.

Children:

• More than half of the children enrolled were from low-income families.
• African American, Latino, and Asian children were more likely thanWhite children to be in a Pre-K class with a high concentration of poorchildren.
• 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 childrenfrom low-income families was below the national average, as was theirmath ability. On standard measures of language and math, these childrenmade small but meaningful gains from fall to spring of their Pre-K year.

Pre-K teachers:

• 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 AfricanAmerican or Latino.
 

The finding's highlighted the concerns of teachers not being able togive the high quality experiences required to those children that needit most. It also reveals that using the widely used measure ofclassroom quality of Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale-Revised(where a score of 7 is ‘excellent', a score of 5 is ‘good', and a scoreof 3 is ‘minimal') the average score was 3.86. This score is adisappointment to all concerned, considering the enthusiasm, and showsan environment that is not able to take full advantage of learningopportunities for young children.

These finding's were endorsed by Kauerz (2006) who states that althoughPre-K provides crucial gains in achievement, especially in reading andmath's, it is only short term due to what is termed as ‘the fade-outproblem'. This problem is that the advantage that the child has gainedcould 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 whilstthe teacher's attention is put to those of a lower standard. It alsohas an effect if the elementary school that the child from high-qualityPre-K joins is of low quality. This factor is covered widely inresearch in the USA as entry is entirely dependant on residentiallocation, therefore it could be a problem for children from low-incomefamilies.

Yet on the positive side, Campbell, Miller-Johnson, Sparling &Pungello (2001); National Research Council (2001); Schweinhart et al(2005) all confirm that through rigorous research high quality earlychildhood experiences produce impressive life-time benefits to societyincluding fewer grade retentions, fewer special education placements,increased high-school graduation rates, and finally increasedemployment earnings (Kuyerz, 2006).



The aim of this study is to discover and evaluate how schools use playas an educational tool for children aged 5 to 6 years of age. Alongwith how it is used in line with the National Curriculum and EarlyYears learning objectives. The study will investigate if play is usedenough in school, and which benefits come from this, with finally, tosupport these findings, an overview of studies completed in othercountries, on the subject of play in education.

The sample size will be thirty, which is less than perfect, but in thesmall time frame allowed it will produce a representative sample thatwill 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 requirementis therefore the development of a clear plan, overall research design.It is the research design that must hold all the parts and phases ofthe enquiry together, with efficient use of resources. A poorlydesigned survey will fail to provide accurate answers to the questionsunder investigation, it will lead to incorrect conclusions, and it willproduce irrelevant information (Oppenheim, 1992).

The procedure for this small-scale study or descriptive survey is witha selection of questions (see Appendix) that form the measurement tool,it is clear as in whom the target interview group is, Year 1 teachers,The purpose of a descriptive survey is to count a representative sampleand then, the important factor being that descriptive surveys showswhat proportion of a whole group have a certain opinion orcharacteristic, they are fact-finding, descriptive and often lead topredictions.

The chosen method to carry out this study is that of postal andself-administered. Each method having its own advantages anddisadvantages. The method of postal questionnaires, give advantages oflow cost of data collection, avoidance of interviewer bias, and mostimportantly, reach out to respondents who work at widely dispersedschools. Whilst the disadvantages are that generally low response ratesand possible consequential biases, no opportunity to check onincomplete responses.

The self-administered questionnaire ensures a high response rate, and accurate sampling without bias.

Once undertaken the data from the representative sample will becompiled, displayed, and from which the statement of results will becompleted.

The aim of this study is to discover and evaluate how schools use playas an educational tool for children aged 5 to 6 years of age, in linewith the National Curriculum and Early Years learning objectives. Thestudy will investigate if play is used enough in school, and whichbenefits come from this.

For the purpose of the research design the key questions addressed toteachers and support staff dealing with the 5-6 year old age group areas follows:

1.    Do you use play as an educational tool?

2.    If so to what extent:      hours/day?
             hours/week?

3.    Which benefits come from this?

4.    How do your results fit in with the National Curriculum and Early Years learning objectives?

5.    What are your thoughts on play in education?

Section B - the undertaking

The thirty questionnaires were distributed by e-mail, postal andself-administered. The choices of schools selected for this evaluationare in both private and state run. The self-administered was handled intwo visits, covering fourteen responses, with nine responses being bypost, six by e-mail and one by phone.

The self-administered outcome was six from a private school and eightfrom a state school, both covered teachers and support staff. On eachoccasion it was possible to sit quietly without distraction for thefive to ten minutes each one took to complete.

How I approached the resulting data was to generalise the responses,taking notice of key / repeating words, e.g.: constructive, positive,communication, social skills etc., from which result, analysis anddiscussion was formed.

The research design brought about the key questions addressed toteachers and support staff dealing with the 5-6 year old age group.Their remarks were very similar the highlight of each being shown below:


1.    Do you use play as an educational tool?

Yes, main use is in classroom we have home corner's. These are areasfor the children to construct a theme: doctors surgery, toyshop, garageetc. where games and learning is centred on these subjects. This cornertheme we change this every few weeks. This area is also linked to ourreward scheme of ‘Golden Time', for excellent work the child is awardeda golden star that allows them ten minutes in the home corner attowards end of Friday afternoon. All the usual games and lego etc. areavailable as well.

Outside play is using climbing frames etc. also plastic milk crates andwhite sheeting is supplied so the children can make anything they wish.This encourages communication and social skills.

Play is an invaluable tool.

2.    If so to what extent:      hours/day?        Children have twotwenty minute breaks, and forty minutes at lunch break each day inwhich they can play.


3.    Which benefits come from this?

Main benefits are Communication and Social Skills. It also allows thechild to be alone, in their own space. They don't always want to playwith other children. If the child does not like the formal side ofeducation, it can be applied to them through play.

(The fact of own time for children was highlighted by over 50% of the respondents)
4.    How do your results fit in with the National Curriculum and Early Years learning objectives?

Play is for enjoyment and challenge, encouragement is given to keep theattitude very buoyant, and keep a watchful eye on possible interferenceto this quality time. It is also is clear that children do choose totake time out on their own in play periods, to be quiet and reflective.Staff makes available as much resources as possible to make achallenging environment, climbing frames etc, and offering suggestionsof themes of play. Attention is obviously put to Health & Safety inall which is undertaken.

Encouragement is constantly given for the child to explore, developtheir learning experiences, and to be open in making sense of thesurroundings and the world in general. To take risks and make mistakes,for enhancement of the learning process.

Above all that the children should not experience fear or be anxious,the environment should always be controlled to allow the child to feelcontent and safe.


5.    What are your thoughts on play in education?

It is of Prime importance. Children do not play enough, they are notleft to their own devices, and everything is too formal, toocontrolled. Children find it hard to play. Too much TV, and they areintroduced to computers at a far too early age.

Play is a time of discovery, and they benefit from it immensely. Moretime would be so much better, and the end results would justify that.


By way of this study on the In respect to how schools in England useplay as an educational tool for children aged 5 to 6, in line with theNational Curriculum and Early Years Learning Objectives. It looks athow children learn, construct knowledge and develop skills; in pastyears there have been successful arguments fore and against timeallocated for play in the early years of a child's education. All thosesurrounding the child: parents etc. demand results, and question thevalue of a child playing, yet educators and child developmentspecialists endorse play as being the best way for young children tolearn the ultimate curriculum for the social, physical and cognitiveadvancement needed to set a solid foundation for later school and lifesuccess.

The most important statement is taken from Wardle (2000) wherediscovery of the importance of play in the child's development is shownto have various kinds of concepts, each having their own strengths.

Constructive play: where the manipulation of the environment toexperiment, build and create, result in accomplishment that empowerschildren with control of their environment.

Fantasy play: where the experimentation of language and emotions in anabstract world exist, where young children can stretch imaginations ina risk-free environment.

Games with rules: this strength is vitally important in a child'sdevelopment, to learn and understand that situations cannot existwithout everyone adhering to the same set of rules.

Motor/physical play: an action that is critical for the development ofphysical strength, and which establishes a fitness regime against heathproblems, and against the possibility of being overweight in latteryears.

Social play: an case of interacting with others, building skills andwhich underlines important social rules, that include give and take,the co-operation of others and sharing with others. All of which gotowards a complete moral reasoning and the developing of a mature senseof values.

So from the study it is clear that the existence of play goes a longway to creating a content environment in which the children can learn. From the DfES in August 2005, at the age of 7, Key Stage 1: 85% ofpupils achieved the expected level in reading, 82% in writing and 91%in maths. Schools Minister Jacqui Smith (DfES, 2005) stated "Thelandscape of achievement has changed dramatically since 1998 when weintroduced the national literacy and numeracy strategies. At the timewe said that level 4 should be the target for all children - not simplyan average as many critics argued. We were determined to tackle theculture of low expectation in some parts of the education system. Ourambition and the work of hundreds of thousands of teachers has meantthat around 84,000 more children in English and 96,000 in maths leaveprimary school having reached the expected level compared with 1998."The improvement in boys' reading this year by 3 percentage points to82% is also good news as the gap between boys and girls narrows”.

"Parents can be confident that primary schools are making huge strides.Recent international comparisons told us that our pupils are close tothe world's best and today's results tell us that they are improving.Since 1997 the increase in standards and in quality of teaching andlearning in schools, has been dramatic and sustained. Ofsted says thatteaching in our primary schools have never been better and describesthe current generation of newly qualified teachers as 'the best trainedever." (DfES, 2005)

Overall, the attainment reached in reading and math's from aneffective, high quality pre-school attendance, proved a positive impactwhich was not depleted by the end of Key Stage 1, and that attendancebefore the age of 3 was very positive towards the child's attainment.Other positive effects of pre-school education have also been shownconclusively in the USA, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Canada, NorthernIreland and New Zealand (see Melhuish, 2004).


All human beings have a basic right to the full development of theirminds and the capacity of learning. There is a growing realisation thatthe development of individuals and of communities depends on education,and on the quality of teaching and learning (Fisher, 1995).

There can be no doubt that if a child cannot cope with a particularchallenge, they tend to give up and avoid it. Yet young children arepowerful learners, and from an early age they learn to master the mostdemanding of learning tasks: language. With their curiosity andelasticity of thought, play is the opportunity of discovery that allowsdevelopment. Learning to learn is about learning to think, or ratherthinking ahead, through the discovery of play is again the opportunityof discovery that allows development.

For in today's world of computers and computer games, the act of playfor a young child is seen by this study as being more important, if notcrucial in allowing the formal side of education to develop andprogress with success. The theory of intellectual development has beenquestioned, and the general conclusion is unavoidable: pre-schoolchildren are not so limited in their ability to ‘decentre' orappreciate someone else's point of view, as Piaget has for many yearsmaintained.  Constructivism activity has proved a major importance, asthe base line theory.

Education of 5 to 6 year olds in the other countries has highlightedsimilar problems as seen in England, and through evaluation and action,now allow the successful giving back to the child of social skillsthrough play activities.

Above all more play is required to enhance the positive beneficialfactors of language, and life skills that come out of play for this agegroup of 5 to 6 year olds.



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