Friday, October 28, 2011

Schools of Tomorrow: Part 1 - Play

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” ~ Leo Buscaglia (author, educator)
 Following on from my last post that concerned play in the EYFS, I want to turn my attention to play as we go up through the primary school. Play should be ever constant in the primary school; all the way up to year 6.
“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.” ~ Plato (Greek philosopher)
It is not play for play's sake. This kind of play needs careful structuring. Or, rather than structuring, it needs nurturing.

Play should be of different types:
  • playing with each other
  • playing with toys
  • playing roles
  • talk in play
  • playing sporting games
  • making up games to play
Playing with each other means that children have to accept others points of view. Isn't this something we, as adults, find just as difficult in the world of work. Playing with each other is the roots of team work. Team work is the essentials of the modern world of work (see next post on team work)
“It is becoming increasingly clear through research on the brain, as well as in other areas of study, that childhood needs play. Play acts as a forward feed mechanism into courageous, creative, rigorous thinking in adulthood.” ~ Tina Bruce (Professor, London Metropolitan University)
Playing with toys involves all of the rules and routines that go with it. Children learn to play by a set of conditions. These conditions are not always pleasurable. If you take the game of snakes and ladders and watch as a child hits that square that has the head of the snake. Children often shake their heads and show denial. Children will miscount their die throw or if the finishing square is in sight, a slide down the snakes head can be enough to upset the balance and game. Counters and die can be upturned in one swift tantrum. Surely having children become comfortable with the pitfalls of games makes the first foundation for the ups and downs of life.

Playing Roles whether in the wendy house, imaginary school or further playing the roles linked to the theme currently being studied: all prepare children to step into other people's shoes. Play with inherent roles must be carefully set-up and also must push children to play in those roles that they are unfamiliar with. These roles can be extended further into the fun hot-seating that goes on as the children get older and are able to explore fiction with developed characters in it.
 “As astronauts and space travellers children puzzle over the future; as dinosaurs and princesses they unearth the past. As weather reporters and restaurant workers they make sense of reality; as monsters and gremlins they make sense of the unreal.” ~ Gretchen Owocki (childhood educator)
Talk in Play should not be left to chance. As educators we should be scaffolding or supporting talk so that it is useful or purposeful. Setting up a shop is not enough. Children given parts of dialogue will more enthusiastically throw themselves into play. Teachers must lead by modelling the importance of the words spoken in play and this will promote its place in play. Children will not just want to wear the best 'policeman's' hat but will want to say the lines of dialogue explaining to their fellow classmate why they have just been arrested.(This dialogue helps to support any writing based on the theme of the play). Higher up, children given the right words in team games will help to motivate and encourage their team to work together.

Playing Sporting Games builds upon many of the same principals mentioned above. Children have to accept their part in a large group whilst developing the physical coordination that they can use throughout their lives. Individuals again have to conform to the rules whilst relying on another. Basic principals that govern many of our working and social situations.

Making up Games to Play is vastly underestimated in the modern school. It doesn't happen spontaneously. It has to be built upon the basics of game play from the  regular use of games in school. Games with the elements and rules identified and taken apart. Again laying a scaffolding for the children forming their own games. This leads to good level of creativity.
“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.” ~ Abraham Maslow (psychologist)
The proposal that play belongs across the whole of the primary school can be taken a whole stage further. Educationalists across the world are promoting the place of the computer game in the classroom. Both as a motivator and as a more complex combination of skills brought together. Latest research also shows that those adults that engage in regular 'game play' such as chess, soduku or crosswords, live with their marbles in tact to a much brighter age.
 “Play is the highest form of research.” ~ Albert Einstein (scientist)
What is play like in your school? Start with a play audit. Identify where it occurs and to what extent it is structured. From there you will be able to target areas of play for development. Time set aside will ensure that the planning. scaffolding or structuring can be done in a thorough way. Then all there will be left to do is for the children to play.
“It’s not so much what children learn through play, but what they won’t learn if we don’t give them the chance to play. Many functional skills like literacy and  arithmetic can be learned either through play or through instruction – the issue is the amount of stress on the child. However, many coping skills like compassion, self-regulation, self-confidence, the habit of active engagement, and the motivation to learn and be literate cannot be instructed. They can only be learned through self-directed experience (i.e. play). ~ Susan J. Oliver (author, Playing for Keeps)

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