Play: A new approach to learning?


'Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child's soul.' - Friedrich Frobel (in Arnold, 2014).
The importance of play and the use of play in education was my preferred topic of choice for my dissertation; however I was told to "save it for my masters" due to the topic being too broad for my 7500 word limit. Fair enough. But I feel it's important I reflect on the use of play in the classroom as it remains a major aspect of my personal philosophy.

Having special interests in early years, and having had most of my training experiences within either the foundation stage or key stage one, accommodating play has become an integral part of my teaching. Play is a reputable activity that children undertake to learn and yet alarmingly, play is often overlooked in key stage one and two as more teachers make way for more formal, adult-led approaches to learning; although with pressures of SATs and other tests, performance related pay and Ofsted, there's no wonder this happens. Formal teaching works, mostly.

However effective alternative approaches to education, such as the Steiner Waldorf approach, value the creativity of learning and aspire to achieve a balance between practical, artistic learning and more formal or 'intellectual' learning in their schools, throughout all the year groups. I question therefore why, with a grand awareness of  proposed 'multiple-learning styles', teachers forget to save time for art, creation and play? Are there not playful ways to teach our children science and maths?

Children learn through play! Even as adults, we learn by exploring and making mistakes. We cannot (and mostly will not) be told what is true or fact; we naturally like to find out for ourselves. So why not give children that opportunity? Why not let children explore? Why not let children figure out for themselves what is right and wrong? Why not let children play? After all, it's what they do best.

Ultimately I feel it is important that we remember that even at age ten and eleven, children are still children. And children need to play.

Can we, as teachers and practitioners, not take a step back from 'teaching' and move towards becoming a 'facilitator' of learning? Although I don't suggest a change of our job title, perhaps there are benefits to be had. Perhaps if children are able to take charge of their own learning, they will effectively move towards higher attainment at their own pace? Perhaps they would enjoy learning more?

Perhaps we need to learn to strike a balance between 'teaching' and 'facilitating? Maybe this would even help with our work load too!

I feel the new primary curriculum could stimulate a movement towards achieving this balance. Whilst I respect the success of formal teaching approaches both past and present, I personally believe that accommodating playful approaches to learning could open new doors for children, allowing them to become more motivated learners.

I look forward to establishing my own balance of play within the classroom.

Arnold, J.C. (2014) Their Name is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World. Robertsbridge: Plough Publishing House.

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