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I wanted to focus on a topic I feel passionate about, one which will enhance my personal and professional development: The 'value of play', and 'enhancing parental understanding of learning through play'. I was surprised by apparent lack of comparative research relating to 'parental views' and considered changing topic.
My reflective diary identifies positive and negative emotions:
Excitement - choosing an area of research that interests me
Enthusiasm - making a positive contribution to children, parents and my early years practice
Frustration - not finding literature relating to parent views
Apprehension - my ability to put it all together effectively within timescale
My topic choice has personal significance: My daughter started school thirty-two years ago; she was independent and confident with plenty of self-esteem. The school had play-based strategies and after the first year informed me that my daughter was extremely advanced and suggested I might consider a more formal education. My daughter transferred to a private school but could not cope with tests and pressures. She regressed, lost confidence and was unhappy. I returned her to the original school, where she picked up again. If I had known then about the value of play, I would not have moved her.
I am concerned that children entering schools may move too quickly into 'formal' approaches and parents may feel unqualified to voice an opinion.
Although researcher bias exists, it would be presumptuous to assume parental understanding of 'play' needs developing, as I cannot provide evidence in support. The project is therefore a 'descriptive research' (as opposed to hypothesis testing) and aims first to collect data in respect to the importance of assessing the parent's attitudes. Then based on findings, I may discuss any potential interventions to develop parental understanding of learning through play.
'Parents are children's first and most enduring educators. When parents and practitioners work together in early years settings, the results have a positive impact on children's development and learning'.
(Every Child Matters, Change for Children EYFS 2007):
My working title is 'Assessing parental understanding of the value of play within an early years setting', concentrating on my own setting, with the following aims and objectives:
Discuss the value of play in young children's learning
Determine parents beliefs about appropriate strategies for enhancing young children's learning which correspond to child-centred and adult directed approaches ( or child-initiated) ?
Identify parental understanding of young children's learning through play
Discuss how I could develop parental understanding of the value of play
I believe my study will assess parental understanding of the value of play and show whether it is appropriate to develop knowledge and understanding in this area. I believe this is important whereby a good knowledge and understanding of children learning through play builds sensitivity to our children's needs. Additionally it can motivate parents to educate their children at home and confidently voice their views, thus contribute to decisions effecting their children's education and wellbeing.
'Research has shown that children are more likely to develop and use positive peer relationship skills, to develop good ability to understand and use language and to have age-appropriate or better cognitive functioning, if their caregiver: is sensitive to their needs'. Gillian Doherty, G (1996) p.43
This small scale study has a child-centred methodology with an interest in children's rights - Children have a right to play The research will employ an interpretivist paradigm as it focuses on the social world and our understandings, allowing examination of parent's views on 'young children's learning'.
'Within an early childhood setting the interpretation of events by the researcher, the children, the parents and nursery workers are all equally important. For the interpretive researcher these multiple understandings are all equally important and the range of interpretations gives the research validity' Robert-Holmes, G. (2005) p.40
The research will involve the analysis of qualitative and quantitative data, using the following methods:
Method 1: Questionnaires to parents: to find parents views on play-based and more formal approaches - As questionnaires can lack depth, I will use additional research methods - 'Questionnaires can only ever provide part of the answer to your overall research question and need to be used in conjunction with other research methods such as interviews' Robert-Holmes, G (2005) p. 142.
Method 2: Interviews with parents - semi-structured, having flexibility of schedule and allowing parents space to elaborate on their views and points of interest and to speak their mind (Robert-Holmes (2005) p.109
Method 3: Relevant Reports, Documents and Government Policies, to examine what has been researched and written in literature on 'the value of play and learning through play' , and compare to findings of the study
I am aware that ethical issues are central to any piece of early childhood research, and aim my research to make a positive contribution to the broader social good within early childhood. I have considered how my project may benefit the children, improve my setting and enhance my learning. My research will be transparent, clear and honest. I will gain informed consent in respect to all research participants , ensuring they all fully understand the aims of the study and that I will use the information they provide within the analysis of the study and will assure research confidentiality and anonymity.
How the data might be analysed in order to meet the aims and objectives of the study:
Method 1: The questionnaires for parents will consist of a list of statements, some endorsing child-centred learning strategies and some endorsing adult directed learning strategies. Parents will tick the appropriate box indicating their level of agreement or disagreement to each statement. This will be a quantitative research method as it involves numerical data collection derived from questionnaires. I may use the 'likert' rating scale method to analyse the data as I would like to discover strengths of attitudes. Bell.J (2005) p. 218
Method 2: The parent interviews will be semi-structured and qualitative as it will be a non-numerical data-collection research method. I will compare the questionnaire responses to the interview responses and the relevant reports, documents and government policies (Method 3) and identify any areas of weakness in the understanding of child-centred strategies in learning through play. This is data triangulation, comparing and combining different sources of evidence to reach a better understanding of the research topic and to see if participant's responses are consistent. It gains more depth analysis, adding validity and making findings more convincing.
I have recorded a time plan, to view the special project holistically (See Appendix One, page 7).
The key issues of my study are young children's play, learning through play and the value of play, which I have investigated extensively through preparatory and background reading:
Studies relating to the value of play, parents understanding and early childhood education
Government literature, including the new Early Years Foundation Stage
Related organisations: Children's Play Council, DfES, Teachernet, Surestart
Books and papers - research and views on the value of play written by experts in the field, for example: Janet Moyles, Jennie Lindon, Tina Bruce, Penny Tassoni, Christine Macintyre, Angela Annings, Sylva et al. (1999), and many more.
Research into learning through play and the value of play through online journals and studies, papers, library research, articles
The media and magazines
I hope my study will help children and the parents, whom I believe should have a voice and status to intervention should they feel it appropriate or if they are concerned about their child's learning or disposition.
'Parents and other family members play a significant role in promoting, reinforcing and sustaining gains made during the preschool years' (Karners & Lee, 1978) p.14
There is much research recognising the importance of learning through play, for example:
'All human beings learn through the multifaceted layers of the range of activities variously subsumed under the heading of play' Moyles, J. (2006) p.8
However, I believe there is confusion in the expectations of practitioners and teachers in respect to priorities and achievements. I am concerned that an essential principle 'young children's learning should be always enjoyable, challenging but never stressful', may sometimes be over-looked.
'In the UK the discourse of early childhood education, drawing on the discipline of developmental psychology, emphasises the importance of young children learning through first-hand experience within a child-centred learning environment. This discourse exists in tension with statutory schooling discourse which emphasises the preparation of children for 'real' school, in particular their induction into and achievements in the 'basics' of literacy and numeracy, and preparation for the world of work'. Anning, A. (2004) p.3
Information and findings from this research will identify, within my setting, any areas of weakness in parent's knowledge and understanding of learning through play and if appropriate enable me to implement strategies to develop positive parental attitudes and understanding of the value of play. It will enhance my learning and better equip me to offer advice and support to parents in their understanding and involvement in their children's education and development. It will contribute to good practice, quality provision and staff training, and ultimately therefore benefit the children.
Anning, A., Cullen, J., Fleer, M. (2004) Early Childhood Education. London, Sage Publications Ltd (p.3)
Bell, J., (2005) Doing your research project 4th edition Maidenhead, Open University Press (p.218)
DfES (2007) The Early Years Foundation Stage Principles - Positive Relationships, Parents as Partners. (Every Child Matters, Changes for Children). DfES (Section 2.2)
Doherty, Gillian (1996) The Great Child Care Debate:The Long-Term Effects of Non-Parental Child Care (www) available at: http://www.childcarecanada.org/pubs/op7/op7.pdf - Accessed 6th April 2007 (p.43)
Karners, M.B., & Lee, R.C (1978). Early Childhood: What research and experience say to the teacher of exceptional children. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children (p.14)
Moyles, J (1994, reprinted 2006). The excellence of Play London: Open University. (p.8)
Roberts-Holmes, G. (2005). Doing You Early Years Research Project. Paul Chapman Publishing (p.40, 109, 142)