Sunday, 6 December 2015

Playtime and time to play

'We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.'
(George Bernard Shaw, 1856--1950)

This week has had me thinking about play and the usefulness of play in social and academic development. I tuned into the #Scoteduchat this week which hosted questions around nursery primary transition but I think the thing that I was most take with was the use of play.

Each of these has led to me to thinking about how important play is in both social and academic development but also about how parenting and interaction through play is vital to childhood development and how this fits into the Scottish Attainment Challenge. I had a quick search in Education Source – EBSCO ( - log in page) and found a paper by  Kanhadilok & Watts (2014) about Adult play-learning and I also had a quick look at the Education Scotland website for more information on play and came across the Play Strategy for Scotland: the vision.

I am playful and I used play in my secondary classroom with the students, from the more obvious games for learning but also in social interactions which were playful. Playfulness as discussed by Kanhadilok & Watts (2014) as “the predisposition to frame (or reframe) a situation in such a way as to provide oneself (and possible others) with amusement, humour, and/or entertainment”. Playful approaches to learning sit within constructivist theories of learning and can prompt learning especially when learning is driven by curiosity and creativity. Playfulness is a ‘mindset’ and is linked to the ‘pleasure principle’ so if it becomes a chore then it stops being play.

I love the idea of play as a medium for learning and watching children play, you can see creativity and social skills in action. It is interesting though that the research on childhood play is extensive according to Kanhadilok & Watts (2014) “some 3000 psychological research papers focused on children's play” in the last decade but at the same time “only around 40 have addressed play in adults”.

Children love to learn, from the Play Strategy for Scotland: The vision (p15)
“Play allows children to experience and make sense of their world, to challenge themselves, practise skills and manage their emotions, interact with others or enjoy time alone”.
This ties in with Dewey’s thinking around learning involving active discovery rather than the passive remembering of facts and figures. Sugata Mitra famous experiment Hole in the Wall (HIW) experiment (1999) gave children free access to a computer embedded within a wall between his office and an Indian slum at Kalkaji, Delhi. This and further experiments have shown that children want to, and love to learn and are not afraid to making mistakes. Some adult have a fear of being wrong and are shamed by being wrong, children are far more like Edison;

“I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”,

Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts”. So not only is it a ‘right’ but we also tacitly know that play is a ‘good’ thing and the benefits go beyond fun, into aspects of resilience, creativity, problem solving and make significant contributions to children ‘well-being’, a key aspect of the GIRFEC agenda. Through play children interpret their world and negotiate risk taking, challenge and manage themselves and learn co-operative and collaboration, all of these skills are being heralded by employers. Play remains important “throughout infancy, childhood, the teenage years through adolescence, and beyond into adulthood and at all ages, stages and abilities” (p13).

The recent emphasis on outdoor learning has been a step forward and the use of natural materials to support ‘academic learning’ is laudable. Early years practitioners are crucial in developing children who are curious about the world around them and using outdoor play experiences to support children’s development. According to the Play Strategy for Scotland: the vision (p19) “the greatest potential to develop free play in schools is outdoors, before and after school, during break times and, through out-of-school care”, but how to achieve this?

In the current climate where the perception of risk to children playing outdoor is often higher than the reality, this raises issues of children not having opportunities to practice their skills, experiment and to challenge themselves out with the ‘control’ of adults.  The Play Strategy for Scotland: the vision (p21) states that “children and young people who play outdoors more often have better social networks, are more confident and are more involved in their local communities than those who are outside less often” and I agree with this, that children need to time to develop skills through play and being independent which will support them as they grow up.

Play is not just for the little ones but through play in early years children can start to develop neural pathways that support learning. It was fortuitous that just as I am finishing writing this post that the EIS have put out a press release commenting on Professor Siraj’s Review of Early Learning and Childcare, Larry Flanagan is quoted to have said;
"It is welcome that the Scottish Government has acknowledged the essential nature of teacher involvement in the nursery sector, while restating its own commitment to ensuring that all children in nurseries have access to a teacher."
So play is important and should be nurtured as “play is the universal language of childhood” and beyond, so who wants to go jump in some puddles!

Aubrey, K. & Riley, A. (2016) Understanding and using educational theories: Sage publishing

Kanhadilok, P. & Watts,M.(2014) Adult play-learning: Observing informal family education at a science museum: Studies in the Education of Adults, Vol. 46, Issue 1

Review Of Early Learning & Childcare: EIS Comment
last retrieved 15-12-04

PLAY STRATEGY FOR SCOTLAND: OUR VISION: Scotland's first national play strategy. (2013)

last retrieved 15-12-04

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