Posted by: devonteacherblog | May 13, 2012

Learning through play

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Play is often given as a reward to children. “Well done for finishing your task, you can go and play now”. As adults we realise that children need to play. It is their desire and passion. “Can I go and play now?”
But does it always have to be a reward? Can it be, instead, used as a learning tool? A way of expressing their feelings? Can play be structured? If it isn’t structured, does it matter?

Play is natural to children. They are highly skilled at playing. So surely play should be embraced in the school day? It should be celebrated and incorporated in to lessons. Play clearly influences children and impacts on their social and emotional learning but what about core subjects? Does play have a place here?

Imagine a literacy lesson where children are independently playing. They have the choice to move freely around the classroom, playing with different toys, books, objects. Should this be structured at all? Could this be structured at all? Perhaps the children are learning about instructional writing and have been reading and following instructions earlier in the week. If they are then given a ‘free play’ literacy lesson it may well be that some children choose to explore instructions here. I often see some of the children in my class rein-acting classroom activities at play time. So they may choose to act out their own instructions or create instructional games together.
But what about those children who just want to sit quietly with a dolly? Or those children who are obsessed with the lego? Should their learning be guided? Or is it okay to leave them to play?

I don’t have all the answers here. I know that I am a big believer in play. From my own experiences I have seen children gain so much from it and so I would find if difficult to interrupt their play and try to guide it. You can learn so much about a child from watching them play. And the children themselves learn to be great explorers, actors and independent learners. I don’t think a ‘free play’ session is ever a wasted lesson.

However, I myself have encountered that nervous feeling when a visitor to the school walks past my classroom and peers in to see children simply ‘playing’. To the untrained eye it may look as though these children are not learning, that they are simply playing. I am ready to fight my corner though. Play is vital. These children are learning. They are focused. Play will help them progress as young learners.

Play is a brilliant tool for allowing children to become independent learners. They can choose how and what to explore.
ICT fits in well here and gives children ownership of their learning. Children can use laptops, talking tin voice recorders, digital cameras, video cameras and even iPads to play and learn. Give a child a ‘play session’ on a laptop and their skills will amaze you. With the use of the internet (safely), their learning needs no barriers – but to the child they may think they are “just playing”.
Here is a link to a fantastic blog I have been following about very young children confidently using iPads to play and learn:
iteachwithipads.net

Play is also a fantastic healing tool for children. 7 or 8 years ago I discovered ‘play therapy’. The Association of Play Therapists (UK) describes this as “(a) dynamic process between child and play therapist in which the child explores, at his or her own pace and with his or her own agenda, those issues past and current, conscious and unconscious, that are affecting the child’s life in the present.”
Janet West explains that “sessions are the child’s time, the child deciding what to do and how to do it” (Child Centred Play Therapy, 1996)
Play Therapy is obviously intended for troubled children but there is so much that we, as teachers of children, can take away from this. We can never be 100% sure (or even 50% sure) of what is going on in a child’s home life, or even on the playground for that matter. All children need access to this healing tool; play. The positives here hugely outweigh the negatives.

Don’t be afraid to let your children play. Provide as many unstructured and structured play sessions as possible, both in the classroom and outside in the environment. Allow them time to explore and they will amaze you!

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Responses

  1. And we know that it is important for adults too. But sensibly of course. 😉
    Play is at the heart of all creativity and very important to growing as an adult and not just as a child. So sing, skip, dance. All the things children do with such gay abandon.


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