Research School Network: 60 minutes of lost learning … or is it? As I stand and observe the matrix of social interactions and complex activities taking place before my eyes


60 minutes of lost learning … or is it?

As I stand and observe the matrix of social interactions and complex activities taking place before my eyes

by Billesley Research School
on the

As I stand and observe the matrix of social interactions and complex activities taking place before my eyes during free play, I stop and wonder about the wealth of knowledge and rich purposeful experiences the children are being exposed to. I think about the foundations of our EYFS philosophy and how, through it, we empower all children to simply be and to express themselves while growing at their optimum pace.

As a qualified play therapist and a graduate TA at Billesley Primary School, I truly value the power of play and feel I’m an ambassador for play driven learning. However, the importance of play driven learning is not always revered as a research-based pedagogy, be it by parents, carers, or fellow practitioners and professionals. Yet, as adults, can we not all reflect back on the imaginary adventures we enjoyed as children, and look deeper to see the creative learning opportunities that we were provided through child led learning? It is here in the world of play, as empirical studies have consistently demonstrated, that we know and given child’s thought processes are increasing, social and emotional needs are being met, developed and explored, and communication skills are rapidly evolving.

So, when I ask the children, What have you been taking part in?” and they respond with, Playing”, I think to myself how wonderful this simple response is. As a witness to their play, I know that this might in fact mean evaluating risk and problem solving while jumping to escape the jaws of crocodiles; exploring bravery and the ideas of good and bad’ while saving the world from aliens; using fine and gross motor skills to purposefully build a tower for a king; before eventually coming back to earth to carry out the mindful task of making a thank you card and exploring the important concept of gratitude. Naturally, the children taking part in these independent learning opportunities are oblivious to the fact that deep, meaningful learning is occurring. How often do children go home and tell their parents- I haven’t done anything today”, I didn’t learn anything, I was just playing.” without revealing the immeasurable lessons they have in fact learned? Furthermore, how do we convey to our parents the importance of play based learning to rebuff the idea that playing is just playing’? As with most things, I believe it simply requires exposure to and understanding of our EYFS principles (see Liz Payne’s article on the use of remote learning as a way to increase parental knowledge of play-based, child centered learning).

When exploring the EYFS philosophy of play-based, child- centered learning, a crucial part of this pedagogy involves the learning opportunities it provides for nonverbal or ASDL children. This cohort may not have the words, language or confidence to say things out loud, but they can develop and express their thoughts, feelings and experiences via play- based learning. Crucially, using open-ended and philosophical question techniques from Philosophy for Children (a crucial part of the dialogue that occurs between practitioner and child during play), children are exposed to short philosophical enquiries relating to the child’s current play, even if they are simply observing this dialogue without their own verbal input. I have witnessed the exposure to open-ended thought alongside play significantly grow a non-verbal ASD child’s self-esteem, raising both their smile and understanding of themselves. In a similar vein, using Fortis’ Child Therapists technique, I was able to sit and use arts and crafts, puppets, toys, and Lego bricks with children who had social anxieties or special educational needs. These are safe, constructive and child-led resources and activities that are set out to develop and enhance their essential skills.

For children who are less able to access dialogue, or those who do not feel comfortable being close to others, play-based, child centered learning still offers ample opportunities for growth and development. For example, I saw a young child who seemed acutely shy and reserved take herself off to the reading area almost exclusively. Here, she was free to explore many different cultural, traditional tales, and non-fiction books and many more. This was her uninterrupted opportunity to access knowledge of communication skills through the book she picked up. Eventually, she was able to vocalise sounds to her teachers and eventually her peers. As we can see, a crucial part of play based learning is that, regardless of whether a child is happy, sad, angry, anxious or feeling content and confident, there is a space for them to choose to access. In turn, they are able to explore their current internal world as well as the external world in a safe and unlimited way.

In the world we live in today, teaching empathy and the importance of supporting one another is more crucial than ever before. Play-based learning provides numerous opportunities for children to develop an authentic, early sense of global citizenship and a compassionate understanding of others. We can often see these skills being developed in the form of teachers’, a very popular role-play that children frequently choose to engage with. Recently I witnessed children role playing a phonics lesson between a teacher and her students. They had access to phonics cards which they retrieved and placed out in front of the students’. As each student’ completed their phonic flash card, they had a tangible sense of accomplishment, thereby helping to boost their confidence in this specific skill. Moreover, I saw children at the age of 4 and 5 learning how to support and understand their friend who may not have understood or known the sound on those flashcards. These children were able to recognise emotions in others and develop and practise empathy in a way that effectively helped their friend to access their learning. This is undoubtedly a crucial life skill and one that many adults struggle with. Another popular choice for roleplay that offers a plethora of child-led learning opportunities exploring social interaction is vets and pets’. In this example, a group of children had come together to care for the toy animals in the role play vets area. The social learning opportunities here were endless. This group of children were navigating group dynamics, sharing, collaborating, compromising, problem solving, and working as a team in order to achieve their end goal of keeping the pets safe.

And so, as I witness all of this learning and development in the Billesley early years environment, and recognise their understanding of this as just playing’, I wonder how we can press forward in the global understanding of the vital importance of play.

Shannon Rice
Graduate TA

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