Play based learning
Play is an essential part of a child’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. For many teachers and parents ‘play’ has attracted a negative ‘time wasting’ connotation but in reality play is a vital part of every child’s development. It allows them to test ideas, work through uncertainties, explore social interactions and make sense of the world around them. Play has no predetermined outcome or time limit. It is not about an end product but about a process. It’s the exploration of ideas that is crucial. Play is children’s work.
It can be argued that children today have fewer opportunities to play and be active than in the past. There is less time spent exploring the natural world, less time ‘doing their own thing,’ fewer opportunities to take risks and problem solve. There is more time in supervised, protected and confining activities that put boundaries on learning and creativity.
Discovery Time provides opportunities for children to be involved in a range of play based activities these may be solitary or group activities and involve:
• symbolic or pretend play activities
• exploratory play activities
• physical play activities
Symbolic or pretend play
This may include: creating new rules, taking on different roles, using objects to symbolise real things, changing real life situations into make believe ones, safely exploring real world risks, acting out situations seen or experienced.
- Students may be: doing puppet shows, dressing up, playing shops, having tea parties, building in the sand pit, transforming the playground or classroom (a tent, a pirate ship, a cave, a recording studio…), constructing and playing with – LEGO, train tracks, farms, zoos, cardboard boxes, sheets or blankets…
- Teachers may be: following the children’s lead, taking part/playing a role, modelling different voices or expressions, extending language, making connections with prior learning, providing resources, extending ideas, becoming the audience, encouraging persistence…
- Teacher may be saying: have a go, try it out, keep going, what can I get for you? if you need me I’m here…
Exploratory Play – Experiential activities / exploring resources / experimenting with materials
- Students may be: building (obstacle courses, cities, marble tracks, creative structures, go carts, huts, rope ladders, bird feeders, rat traps, scarecrows, wasp traps…), exploring science equipment (prisms, magnifying glasses, microscopes…), working out how things operate, exploring different mediums (dough, paint, water, gloop, clay, sand, mud…), exploring scientific principles (static electricity, condensation, density, levers, friction, gravity), solving problems (BP challenge, syphoning…), exploring nature (planting, weeding, watering, identifying native plants, birds, insects …)
- Teachers may be: – asking clarifying questions,
- Teacher may be saying: – what would happen if? why did that happen? What do you notice? what else could you try?
Physical play activities
Explore strength and dexterity without being hurt, find out about the properties of objects and places by manipulation and movement. Try activities that involve moving about, risk taking, mastery of skills, developing the skills that will allow them to achieve a desired end (tying knots and bows, hammering a nail, plaiting, pouring)
- Student may be: trying to master new apparatus (stilts, unicycles, musical instruments, PMP equipment…), target things, throwing & hitting balls, move over and around equipment
- Teachers may be: providing materials, teaching safety skills, monitoring for safety, teaching specific skills as they are needed, suggesting additional equipment
- Teachers may be saying: how can I help? What do you need? keep trying you can nearly do it, How could you record your score?
We want to educate the whole child; social, emotional, physical, as well as cognitive. We believe the best way to do this is to ensure that children have opportunities to play. We do this very well in preschool education but when a child enters more formal schooling (in New Zealand this is on a child’s fifth birthday), the focus shifts to the cognitive side of learning; to literacy and numeracy. Without the time to play children are given fewer opportunities to develop the broader skills and the social, emotional and physical skills are often not given enough time.
Play – some key readings that might set you thinking
New Zealand Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whariki: He Whariki Matauranga mo nga Mokopuna o Aotearoa (Early Childhood Curriculum). Wellington: Learning Media. www.education.govt.nz/early-childhood/teaching-and-learning/ece-curriculum/te-whariki/
Sutton-Smith, Brian. Cited in Hammond. Leading and Learning for the 21stC Sadly “the typical image of play is a single child sitting in front of a television set or video game. This is not play – play is an open ended experience initiated by children that involves pretence and spontaneous creative activity. It’s a time of wonder and sensory exploration.” www.leading-learning.co.nz/newsletters/2007-no29.html