What are the benefits of a play based approach?
”Play provides the most natural and meaningful process by which children can construct knowledge and understandings, practice skills, immerse themselves naturally in a broad range of literacy and numeracy and engage in productive, intrinsically motivating learning environments” (Walker, 2007, as cited in Cole, 2010. P 20)
A play based approach to learning is logical when you understand what is learnt through children’s play. The idea behind a play based program is that it is child initiated, where children can draw on their everyday experiences and environments in their play. When children draw from familiar settings they are more likely to engage fully and potentially take risks, hence the self initiated learning experiences. Children find play pleasurable, so when they are allowed to initiate play they are more motivated to learn and develop positive dispositions towards learning (Cole, 2010).
A good play based program sets children up with valuable skills and positive attitudes towards learning that can benefit them throughout life. They learn to become confident and motivated as they have the power to make decisions, which then leads to a greater understanding of responsibility and self regulation (Cole, 2010). As they use investigation as a means to experience their social worlds they start to learn about relationships, they develop problem solving skills, reasoning and lateral thinking; learn communication strategies and how to work collaboratively (Cole, 2010). On a more academic level they develop literacy, numeracy and scientific concepts naturally, as they are embedded in the play the same way they see it in their community and immediate surroundings (Arthur, Beecher, Death, Dockett & Farmer, 1993). With so much learning going on all the while enjoying themselves it is an obvious principle value when reflecting on my approach to teaching and it speaks for itself as to why most early learning environments run play based programs.
How does collaboration promote learning?
“Collaborative partnerships between families, educators, children and communities mean that there is an exchange of information between partners rather than the one-way transmission of knowledge and information from educators to other parties” (Hughes and MacNaughton, 2002 as cited in Arthur & al. 1993. P 21)
Collaborative practices are not only there as part of a reflective practice nor are they the simple fact of communicating children’s development to the immediate family. They have a much broader use and benefit to all who participate. Socio-cultural theorists have explored how children learn through interactions with their families and communities; how they observe the familiar daily processes, concepts and practices that are important to their community (Arthur & al. 1993). It would be poor practice on my part not to explore, value and draw on this wealth of information in helping me understand an individual child’s needs and learning. It is also my responsibility to make every family welcome in their child’s early learning setting and to facilitate the exchange of information through respect and reciprocity.
Collaborating with the children is also essential. Through exchanging ideas about their interests, ideas and asking questions, which is all essentially good play based practice, I will be able to include the children in the future direction of my programming. It is important to give family members and children a voice and a role in decision making as a means to creating learning communities (Arthur & al. 1993).
Why is reflective practice essential?
“Dispositions are combinations of being ready, being willing and being able that emerge from learning experiences which occur often and which are supported, recognised and highlighted” (Carr, 2001)
It is easy to misinterpret documentation and reflective practices as purely assessment in early childhood education, and although these practices are forms of assessment they are also used for a lot more. For my own practice, documentation is a means to devise goals, techniques and learning experiences for the children (MacNaughton & Williams, 2008). Documentation is done as a reflection of my own practice; to make me more aware of what the children are learning and how I can further support it, further more it is said that the documentation process is embedded in the learning process as a trigger for further learning (MacNaughton & Williams, 2008).
The act of documenting and reflecting on the children’s work also benefits the children in various ways. It shows that educators take the children seriously and excites their interest in their own learning (Malaguzzi, 1993 as cited in MacNaughton & Williams, 2008, p 258), thus stimulating a positive disposition to learning as described in the above Carr quote. Reflective practice is also a great means to working collaboratively as it opens up the dialogue with other staff and the families and many perspectives leads to a more non biased interpretation of the children’s learning. Reflective practices are very much a means to strengthen my own teaching practices and I encourage the participation of the children, thus demonstrating a shared learning experience.
When is outdoor play learning?
“There is little that happens indoors that cannot happen outdoors, but the outdoors may provide opportunities for experiences that cannot be duplicated indoors” (Dau, 2005, as cited in Outdoor Play, Royal Children’s Hospital, 2007)
The importance of outdoor play has been diminishing over time, partly due to our busy lifestyles and a new sense of over precaution on the part of parents and childcare centres. There are the more discussed health and wellbeing benefits of physical outdoor play, helping to balance the physical and mental development so abundant in these early years. Yet we are often so focused on the gross motor skills learnt in an outdoor setting that some of the other benefits are overlooked. There are a broad range of skills and learning discoveries that are gained through time spent exploring our natural world and the outdoors provides a special place with hidden spaces for imagination and contemplation (Royal Children’s Hospital, 2007).
Not only having outdoor time but also spending it playing in quality natural play space helps to create competent, curious and imaginative learners. Successful play environments also provide abundant sensory stimulation and appeal (Shipley, 2008), which are essential learning in these early years and outdoor play creates learners who have respect and an understanding for their natural world and environment.
I would like to think that all the values listed in my philosophy are already in use, but some are still new or I had not critically reflected on them before, some examples are the following:
Through this course and through watching my own child I have really gained an understanding that the early childhood years are unique. We are often is such a hurry for our kids to grow up and so worried that they will not succeed in life that these early years are only seen as stepping stones to later years. In fact the early childhood years are such an amazing time in our life and so full of wonder and discoveries that they are not stepping stones but rather shape our later years. I have really learnt in my practice to step back, observe and share in this wonder. We seem to think it is our job to teach the children rather than let them guide us, and through observation I now see that the children are quite competent at learning on their own when given the right environments and opportunities. I have a better understanding early childhood as a unique developmental period that is be approached with values and teaching that is separate from later education techniques.
Children are inertly motivated, they are competent and capable. This is something that I have always believed in but I have now been given techniques to use that in my practice. When you learn to focus on the positive and what a child can do, they feel so much more confident and valued that they want to continue demonstrating this behaviour. Creating a positive, stimulating and reciprocating environment permits everyone to engage in interesting interactions and the whole community reaps the rewards. Through positive documentation such as learning stories, I have learnt how to put this positive perspective into concrete use.
The benefits of open-ended materials have really opened my eyes as to how children learn. I was often frustrated with my own child’s lack of attention span or uninterest in supposed ‘stimulating toys’. I have seen the benefits of open-ended resources first hand, such as natural materials, everyday house hold objects and anything that reflects one’s own personal values and community. This could be a piece of string, or a collection of toilet rolls! Giving young learners the opportunity to use their imagination and their daily experiences in how they manipulate materials gives them so many learning experiences that cannot be duplicated when trying to force feed them with a closed activity. If we don’t go back to this more natural approach to early childhood learning we are going to encourage the idea of the hurried child.
I hope to have demonstrated a sound beginning to my personal teaching philosophy and I have come to accept that it will never be truly finished or defined as it is fluid and constantly changing as it should be under a solid reflective practice.
Arthur, L. Beecher, B. Death, E. Dockett, S. Farmer, S. 1993, Programming & Planning, in Early Childhood Settings 4th ed, VIC, Cengage Learning.
Carr, M. 2001, Assessment in Early Childhood Settings, Learning Stories, London, SAGE Publications.
Cole, D. 2010, Play Based Learning, Community Child Care Term 1.
MacNaughton, G & Williams, G. 2008, Teaching Young Children: Choices in theory and practice, England, Open University Press.
Royal Children’s Hospital. 2007, Childcare and children’s health, outdoor play. Vol 10 No 2 June.
Shipley, D. 2008, Empowering Children, play-based curriculum for lifelong learning 4th ed, USA, Nelson Education