Right from the start I just want to make it clear that I am not writing this post to attack anyone. I am absolutely not saying that anyone is getting it wrong or shouldn't be posting what they are doing in their setting. I'm not saying it isn't nice to see inspiring activities and environments. I'm not saying it isn't important to read about how other people are getting it right. But is anyone else feeling that they aren't doing enough?
I'm meant to have a welcoming start to the day, with a creative self-registration idea. I'm meant to be available to the adults dropping off in case there are problems but also support the children if they need settling in. I can't waste any time during the day at all so these welcome activities should be designed to be visually attractive to the children but also move their learning on.
During the day I should let them have long periods of uninterrupted playing. This way they can follow their interests and develop their skills in a natural way. So I shouldn't force them to leave their play and come and sit at a table. It should be purely their choice. I should observe all of the children and look for teachable moments. Seize those moments and prepare activities that join their interests with their next steps.
To plan this, I should look carefully at my assessments. My assessments should be written down so that I have evidence. Or they could be recorded in an 'online' EYFS tracker. But some of my assessments can come from my professional knowledge and might therefore be in my head. My planning should be done in the moment and in advance. I should be child-led. Child-initiated. When would I even have time to be adult led? My planning should take into account where children have come from, their interests and their next steps. I should plan exciting activities that engage all of the children to develop their skills. Unless they aren't interested, in which case I should observe their play and teach them the objective through their play. Unless their play is already worthwhile. In which case I should just make observations. I should make sure I do exciting topics. But I shouldn't do topics at all because that's not child-led. I should base my topics, that I'm not doing, on stories.
To find support I should follow people on Facebook. And follow them on Instagram. Follow them on twitter. And follow them on Pinterest. And follow them on Snapchat. But not follow them home - for obvious reasons. I should read blogs and newspapers and journals and books. And watch the Secret Life of 4 and 5 Year Olds....
I'm meant to allow self-service snack time, allowing the children to prepare their own snack and clear up. I am meant to encourage them to talk during this process as we need to develop their vocabulary. Speaking of which I'm meant to get them talking all day. All the time. Except when they have to be quiet. Although maybe there shouldn't be an expectation that they are quiet because they're only young? But they can't talk in assembly. But perhaps they shouldn't go to assembly because there are more important things for them to learn about. Right?
I'm meant to read to them every day. Unless they choose not to listen. In that case I should let them choose what they want to be doing instead. Unless it's using the iPad because that is ruining their development. Except those useful apps that teach them phonics. Or numbers.
Oh and speaking of phonics - I should be teaching that, right? But not formally because they're too young for formal teaching. But it is good for them to develop their concentration skills so perhaps I could sit them on the carpet for 5 minutes? Then I can allow them to practise their phonic skills during their play. But we should group them by ability to allow focussed teaching. Except we shouldn't because it affects self-esteem and there is no evidence that 'setting' actually makes a positive difference.
Inside I should have furniture made out of natural materials. No plastic resources. Except Numicon because we should use that. I should have stones, twigs and half of the school wild area in a beautifully arranged display to encourage them to make art with loose parts. I should have areas to be quiet, areas to be alone and areas to be together. And a sofa. And lots and lots of mirrors. I should have fairy lights. And lamps. And I should have hessian. And no bright colours. Except maybe on their work. Which should be displayed on a tree branch. And it should show the child's thought processes. And what the adults think. And what their next steps are. And their photo. My sand and water tray should have Victorian sieves, copper pans and teapots from around the world. And they should be arranged more beautifully than in a Harrods shop window display. My art area should be organised into coloured sections and should look so attractive that even an Instagram filter couldn't improve it. I should have a tepee for reading. Or at least a table with some books under it. I should have a role play area. But it should be deconstructed so that the children can build it into whatever they like. I shouldn't have a writing area but instead have writing integrated across the entire classroom so that children can write whenever they feel inspired. Perhaps I could put some pens and paper in the toilets?
The children shouldn't be forced to write. They will write when they are ready. They will write when they feel inspired to. When it is important to them. But I should get them writing their name, right? But not with tracing or dots to follow. And I'm teaching them cursive handwriting. Or pre-cursive handwriting. To be honest, just getting some of them to hold a pencil is enough at times. But if we are writing is it in an exercise book?! And if I'm writing in an exercise book do I have a separate one for maths work? Not that I'm 'teaching' maths because it's all in context.
I should teach them mindfulness. And yoga. And we should have a charity that we raise money for. We should do Dough Disco. And Dough Gym. And Magic Maths, And Super Sentences. And Story Bags. And Funky Fingers.
Outside I'm meant to have lots of space to run and jump and play. They need to be able to grow their own plants and perhaps look after their own animals. They should be made to feel like it is their environment by allowing them to help develop it so perhaps they can help me repurpose some olf guttering and plastic bottles to build a water wall. Or the music wall. Made out of junk. They could help me paint the boat and turn it into an outside reading area. Or an area for quiet reflection. I should have old tires made into fairy gardens and a wooden spool turned into a small world table. I need a mud kitchen that is fitted out with all modern conveniences. And a pond. But it needs to be fenced off. And there should be trees to climb. Because I should allow the children to take risks. Except playing with conkers - that is still banned, right?
And I need tuff spots. I need tuff spots that look so inviting even grown-ups want to join in. I need stuff spots that are so beautiful that they would make you weep. And I might after I spend so long on them and then the children get their destructive little hands on them....
And I should make my own dough.
In the same way that we shouldn't compare our bodies to the airbrushed perfection that we see in celebrity magazines and on the internet, we should be careful to judge our 'early years' self against what we see on the internet. It is impossible to do everything. At once. And also, not everything is right for everyone. Not everything is right for every setting. Or every child. Take inspiration sure. But you know your children best so don't feel under pressure to copy anyone. Be kind to yourself. But definitely keep following Ace Early Years, eh?! xx
It's a snow day at my setting - hence the above picture is perfect! And in response to the title of this blog - do you sometimes feel all you do is roam around moaning about children playing too roughly? If it's not 3 boys kicking each other while playing Power Rangers, it's one of the girls wrestling another child into 'jail' against the fence. Somewhere there's Wonder Woman and Superman teaming up to defeat a baddy, a zombie outbreak being dealt with and a multi-child pileup as a series of children bash into each other in an attempt to see who falls first.
It's exhausting to deal with. You stop one WWE WrestleMania event and turn around to see two children swinging each other around on the end of a rope. Just as you stop the skipping rope tornedo (wondering how on earth the children found the one skipping rope that isn't in knots) you see WrestleMania 2018 has kicked off again. Good job your setting has banned drinking hot drinks on the playground because you'd never get to drink it anyway.
What are you meant to do? You can't be everywhere and you're convinced some of these children are programmed to be rough. But why on earth would that be the case?
I'll get to that in a minute but one thing to consider is what else is on offer? This is especially relevant if your setting has 'playtimes' on a playground. Children will invent their own entertainment and they often fall back on imitating things they've seen on television, for example. So why wouldn't children pretend to be Ninja Turtles if there isn't much to do. I'd ignore the letters/numbers/mazes printed on the tarmac if I'm busy having fun wrestling my mate to the floor. Simply put it's much more FUN!
Your setting might choose to limit rough play because of supervision problems and that is understandable. Do you have enough big play equipment? Or is there always a queue to get on the climbing logs that understandably erupts into arguments? Can you offer playground toys, for example skipping ropes, balls, balance toys, stilts etc.? Perhaps portable parkour equipment is an idea? Or a Scrapstore PlayPod so that children can build with huge junk pieces? Or perhaps you could teach children 'old-school' playground games and get involved in helping them play these. I don't know about you but I think my children know 'What's the Time Mr Wolf' and 'Duck, Duck, Goose' and that's all.
But does this tackle the root of the problem. Well possibly not. Offering other activities might be what some children need if they turn to rough play because of boredom. But perhaps there are other reasons that some children are attracted towards rough play.
When thinking about rough play it's often hard to work out if it's play or not. And where is that line? Where does it stop being an amazing game of PJ Masks and become a problem? If it's excited shouting, running around and vigorous, physical contact isn't that just normal, energetic play? If things are getting broken and children are getting hurt then yes, that's something to worry about!
When reading around about this I found something interesting - some research that involved showing people videos of boys play fighting or fighting for real, shows that it is often hard for people to tell the difference. Young children were more likely to be able to guess correctly. Adult women who grew up without brothers mostly thought that all of the videos involved real fighting. Having said that, some research suggests that play fighting only turns to real fighting about 1% of the time.
In rough play the children are still playing so there will be signs of enjoyment, smiles and laughter, the children will happily continue the game and after the rough and tumble the children might continue to play together. You might also be able to work out the themes in the play as the children continue to build joint storyline. If it's getting out of hand and/or turning into fighting then you might obviously see frustration and tears, hear shouting and angry voices and potentially see signs of one child trying to get away from each other. Often this line is something that can be 'felt' more than it can be described so trust your instincts and trust your children.
If we want to be able to trust children to rough play together then we need to ensure that children have learn how to do so safely. Children can be taught that there should be rules to rough play - for example no one is allowed to punch or kick. If we intervene when we can see that children are no longer playing safely we need to very clearly help children to recognise what happened and to find ways to try and prevent this. We should teach the children to empathise with their playmates and to continuously check that each other is okay.
So why would we let children play roughly? Well some studies seem to suggest that 3 and 4 year old boys who play roughly with their fathers are rated as more popular and less aggressive than their peers. The research doesn't explicitly say why this is the case but perhaps the rough play helps boys to regulate themselves in terms of self-control during social and interpersonal interactions. Perhaps children also enjoy the close physical contact that rough play gives - especially if they don't get lots of physical contact at home? Rough play can help children to recognise emotions in other children, to read facial and body language and pick up other social cues. It can also help children deal with competition and their own aggression and support the development of resilience and risk taking.
Understandably adults in charge of children want to protect them and ensure their safety. But if children aren't allowed to take some risks with their play, then they miss out on an opportunity for developing self-control and other vital skills. Children already have adults controlling most of their lives, do we need to control all of their play too?
To be clear I am in no way suggesting that anyone encourages fighting. I think we could all see the drawbacks to an adult suggesting everyone go outside and have a last man standing scrap. What I am suggesting is that perhaps, given the right supervision, there is a place to allow children to be a bit rough at school. With the right rules, consistently applied by all adults, children will learn the self-control they need to defeat the evil Megatron without bruising anyone's shins!
Evidence from studies by the government shows that the level of home learning in the majority of families stays the same once a child starts in a funded childcare place. However in families where adults are not in employment, the level of home learning DROPS when the child starts a funded childcare place. Therefore our role is to maintain existing levels of learning and prevent parents from doing less. How can we do this?
Settling into school - one of the concerns we often hear about is that parents aren't sure how to support their child with the transition between pre-school/nursery and school. This is a hard area to tackle because often parents see being school ready as a child being about to write their name and recognise numbers and while this is helpful it's not as important as other areas. We worked with our cluster of local schools to come up with information to support parents with this area and afterward we produced a similar sheet for put onto Ace.
Clear information - one of the things we have found is that most parents don't feel confident to know what it is their child should be doing at different ages and stages. While we know that all children progress at different rates, the EYFS helps to give a clear picture of our expectations. We created a series of information sheets for parents to help recognise some of the things their child might be doing in different areas. The sheets aren't exhaustive but give some indications taken from the 30-50 and 40-60 month stages. Click on the picture to find all of the sheets.
Current learning in class - We have used our class page on the website to explain to parents what we are doing in class. This helps parents to talk to their child about what they have been learning so they can support/continue with this at home. This has led to lots of children bringing things in from home that they have done with their parents, photos of things that are relevant, donations of items to support learning in specific areas (for example Chinese New Year) and even parents offering to come into class and talk to the children.
Family activities - one of the ways we have engaged parents is to have Stay and Play sessions. We have a friend who calls them Stay and Torture sessions because she finds them stressful! It can certainly be stressful but can also be really worthwhile if the activities on offer really support parents to engage with their child's learning. We have had sessions that focus on supporting a particular area - for example lots of phonic games and activities. We have also run sessions at the beginning of a year so that adults come for the first session with their child.
Reading at home - one of the focus areas for our school age children is reading at home. We created a very simple sheet to support parents with reading with their child.
Learning through play - we also know that some parents struggle to help their child at home because they don't feel that they understand how we teach at school - often it is perceived that we teach in a different way than they were taught at school. We made a sheet to explain how the EYFS works and how we work with their children. (Apologies for the repetition of the word motivation - I was very motivated when I wrote it!)
Fun at home - on our website we have provided parents and children with a 'fun at home' page. It contains links to online games we have played in school and videos we may have watched. There is information about how we teach phonics, including pronunciation guides for the sounds and high frequency and common exception words. We have provided story map that we have made with the children so they can retell their stories at home. We also put information about our story bag sessions so that children can retell or write about the stories we have been creating at home. (For more Story Bag info you can watch our video here) We have also put information about our Super Sentences on the page so that children can continue to write at home if they want to. (For more information about Super Sentences you can watch our video here.)
'Homework' - We have never been very strict with applying a homework policy in our settings. We have concentrated on supporting parents to read with their child at home, rather than pushing them to complete set homework. Having said that we know that some of the families enjoy doing things at home and so we occasionally set little 'projects' for families to have a go at. These have included:
Class Dojo - we've talked about Class Dojo a few times before. First off it's free! Think of it as a stripped down version of Facebook - it is not public though! Parents sign up and all families in a class can see the class feed/page. Each child can have their own page where both staff and parents can post notes, photos and videos to. Parents access it through an app on their phone and they get a little notification when there is something posted, so we've found it really useful for supporting home learning. We've posted little ideas, reminders, activities etc.
So what do you do to support home learning? Let us know!
A common complaint from parents is poor communication and often it's hard to know what else to do. At Ace Early Years we tend to go for 'more is more'! We try to use as many different ways to engage parents and give them as many different ways for us to communicate with them. That way we can try to limit the 'Oh I didn't get that letter' that we often hear. When talking about communication before we've had comments like 'Oh but I haven't got the time to be answering all these questions' and 'I don't know how to use that'. Our response is always that you will reap what you sow. The more effort you put into communication, the more parents will feel engaged and supported. We usually set self-imposed times that we will respond to messages via technology. This can only have a positive impact on the children in your setting.
We're sure many of you will be doing lots of these ideas but perhaps you'll find something that you'd like to take on!
Letters - everyone will send letters home - but do they always get there? Have you considered asking everyone for an email address and sending them electronically? How about adding them to your website to allow parents to download a copy if they've lost it? We know some parents don't like to use emails but most do. Sometimes we send a physical copy and an email - rather some parents get 2 copies than anyone miss out! The same goes for newsletters - don't forget to keep these interesting rather than a list of moans...!
Website - we know that some of our parents really appreciate the class website. We use it to provide a mix of information (when we're doing specific things, classroom routines etc.) and things that parents can do at home with their child (videos we've watched, websites we might use etc.). The most popular part was a regular update of what we've been doing during the week, with photos and videos. Obviously we asked parents for permission to put photos/videos onto the internet but we never identified any of the children by name.
Twitter - we have run very successful twitter accounts (when enough parents have signed up for it). We've tweeted reminders, updates of what we've been doing and even tweeted with the children - they were really excited when a parent responded during the day!
Facebook - we know of some settings that run Facebook sites. We know some people worry about people being able to post anything but it is possible to lock down Facebook sites so that posts have to be authorised by an administrator before they are posted. Seeing as most parents will be using Facebook it could be a great communication tool.
Noticeboard - we have a whiteboard outside of our settings. We write reminders, what we've been up to and sometimes just positive quotes! We also use it to allow parents to sign up for things - for example choosing when to attend an information evening. This way there isn't a queue in the classroom and parents can sign up while they're waiting to come in.
Class Dojo - Mark has been using Class Dojo this year. It is free to use and has had positive effects on communication. Staff are able to message all parents on the system at once and parents can message back. Staff can also post photos and videos onto a 'class feed' for parents to see and comment on - though comments must be authorised by staff before they can be seen by everyone. Children also have their own pages that staff can post to and parents can post on these from home too. We wrote a little blog about it previously.
E-mail - We have previously given out our work email to allow parents to contact us. We explain that we are happy to receive messages that show us what children have been doing at home (including photos etc.) and we don't mind if parents message to ask a question. However, we make it clear that we can not guarantee when we will reply (giving ourselves the chance to have our evenings in peace!) and that it is also not the appropriate forum for any complaints or concerns.
What we have found is that every group of parents is different. We are constantly reflecting on which ways of communicating are working well and which are not so popular and focussing our energy in the most appropriate way. For some years twitter seems to work well and in other years email works better. Just like when thinking about what works well with the children, every year is different!
So what about you and your setting? How do you communicate with your parents? Let us know! x
At Ace Early Years we believe that parental engagement is vital to a successful Early Years setting. We're sure we don't need to get into why supporting parents is so important to a child's education. The more parents are engaged in the education of their children, the more likely their children are to succeed in the education system. Instead we wanted to dive straight into some of the different things that we've done to drive up parental engagement. Hopefully you'll find some ideas that you might like to use in your setting.
We should firstly say that parental engagement shouldn't be seen as an 'add-on'. It isn't something that you put effort into every so often when you realise you haven't done anything for a while. It should be part of your every day practise, planned for to ensure maximum impact. All staff in your setting need to be on board - no one can have the attitude that parents 'get in the way'. We know that everyone has an off day and sometimes there will be a parent that drives you crackers. But at Ace Early Years we like to think of parental engagement a little like customer service - and we'd rather be Waitrose' than 'Ryanair'! (Thanks to which? for helping us with this!)
We're going to post several ideas around similar themes for a few days so keep checking back! Our themes are going to cover:
Also - we're using the word parents to simplify writing these blogs. But obviously we mean anyone who has a regular involvement in looking after a child. Biological parents, step-parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, child-minders - everyone should feel welcome and supported.
This one is easy. And so very hard at the same time. We're not suggesting that you should become friends with the parents in your setting. But you should certainly be friendly towards them. The parents are giving you a huge amount of trust. Many of them will be anxious, either because of their own experiences at nursery and school or because they may feel worried about leaving their little treasures. It's easy to forget that, for each of the parents, their child is the centre of their world. The most important thing. But to us, they're just another child. Aren't they?
If we give parents the impression that we don't care enough about their child, then they might not feel comfortable leaving them with us. They might not feel able to come to us with concerns or questions. They may feel less happy with getting involved with their child's learning. So be friendly towards the parents. But be perceptive. Some parents will respond well to a question about their weekend or a nice comment about their umbrella. Some parents will respond well to a comment about how well their child is doing with something in particular. Some parents will feel uncomfortable talking to you with other parents around and vice versa. Some parents will respond better to particular members of staff - don't take it personally, it's just human nature! If you can work out what each parent needs, then you can get them on board with supporting their child.
So get out there and make yourself visible. Ensure your parents know each of the staff and the staff know the parents. Welcome parents in the morning on the gate or at the door. Where it's appropriate, make yourself available for parents to chat to before and after sessions (we know this can be tricky but anything you can do to avoid seeming unapproachable and always busy is important). Speak to parents who have moved on and ask them what they found useful and what concerns they had - this way you can seemingly prevent problems and allay fears before they even arise! If you're having a parents or information meeting consider the timing of them. Could you do daytime and evening sessions? Could some staff look after the children after a session and you speak to some parents? Could you do an evening? You could say 'I've worked all day so why should I have to work late' or you could say 'I want parents to realise we value them and understand they can't attend if they're working'.
One idea that many of you already use is to offer home visits. And yes, we do 'offer' them. We don't force our way into anyone's home just to have a nosey, honest! We explain why we think they are beneficial (for example, some children are different in their settings and at home, some parents find it easier to talk about things at home) and we explain that parents can choose to have a visit or not. We normally get about a 60/70% take up. It's a great tool for setting up positive relationships with parents (and the children too - most are excited to share things with us at home and often comment on when we visited them!),
More tomorrow! How do you go about creating positive relationships with parents? Let us know! x
(I hope you sang that blog title too....!)
Today I read an article on the Telegraph website:
Children struggle to hold pens because of excessive use of iPads, claim experts
In the article it states that experts, including paediatric doctors and orthopaedic therapists, are warning that more and more children are entering school without the ability to handle pencils correctly. The article suggests that this is down to more and more use of technology, especially the use of touch screens. Here at Ace Early Years, we do agree that it seems more children are entering our settings with poor motor skills. We could spend the rest of this blog bemoaning this but that probably wouldn't be useful! In the end, as much as we might like, we don't quite have the influence to change society! However, we can change what happens in our settings, so we thought it would be more useful to explain how we support children with developing the motor skills!
So if we want children to have spectacular pencil control then they will need to have good control over their whole body - for example good 'core muscles' to hold themselves up. We've put together some of our favourite activities for developing gross motor skills - click on the picture to find them! You'll notice that most of them take place outside! We firmly believe that children learn best outside - and while we don't 'teach' gross motor skills explicitly, when you're outside - you don't really need to!
Of course children are going to need to practise their fine motor skills to develop their strength and dexterity. We've put some ideas together here - click on the picture to open them!
Many of you will possibly already do some kind of focus on motor skills. We use Dough Disco, inspired by Shonette Bason-Wood, over at Spread The Happiness! We love Dough Disco because it is a great way to improve the strength and dexterity of little hands, plus its a chance to have a good dance to whatever music you like! Here's a video - if you've never seen Shonette before, you're in for an experience!
We made an episode of Ace TV all about pencil grip - check it out!
So - what do you think? Do your children have poor pencil grip? Is there an overuse of tablets and touchscreen phones? What do you do to combat this? Let us know!
In today's blog we wanted to once again reflect on the meaning of play. We've been looking at this recently and you can check our previous blogs 'This isn't play - it's work!' and 'Today this could be... the greatest play of our lives!'
Why should we care if an activity has lots of play involved? Well, play supports the development of cognitive, emotional and physical skills. Play is so powerful in doing so because through the very nature of play we are engaged in what we are doing. We enjoy the activity and we want it to continue. For adults, it's possible for us to force ourselves to stay engaged with activities, but we all know that if we're not enjoying something we will take less away from it. For children it is so much harder to stay engaged with an activity they are not enjoying. So if we take all the play out of something, then a child is less likely to learn from it.
As we've already talked about, play needs to have a level of control. If too much control is taken away from a child then we can't truly call it play. So what about when we control what the outcome of their play will be? For example, if an adult sets up a creative activity to make birthday cards. A child chooses to come and make one and the adult shows the child what their finished card will look like. The adult supports the child to make the card in a very specific way. We're sure you're already saying to yourself "This isn't play!" and we'd agree with you. There may well be learning going on - for example, practising specific practical skills or developing language. Would the learning have been more meaningful and/or deeper if the child had more freedom to play?
Play can often have a goal, for example the objective may be to make a birthday card or to construct a bear cave. But it's really only play if that objective is an integral part of the activity and not the ONLY reason for the activity. You might have experienced this if you've had a creative activity that develops in stages. For example, when we made Easter cards once, the children could either use a foam egg or cut and decorate their own. For some of the children the process, the actual cutting and decorating of the egg, was something they wanted to do and this increased the levels of play for them. Some of the children didn't value that process and just wanted a card to give to their parents and so their activity wasn't play.
If the child values the process as much as, or even more the finished outcome, then the activity has a level of play to it. If you could just as soon as provide the child with the finished outcome and they don't care, then the activity isn't play. So, with this in mind we need to be careful when we intervene with play. If a child is being creative, take their lead. Ask open ended questions and be careful not to get them valuing the finished outcome too much. This is really important for children with low self-esteem because play is a much safer way to try things! When we value the finished article too much a child may feel that theirs isn't good enough and so may end up not trying at all. If we value the process more, if we value the inherent play, then children will be more inclined to have a go. And will therefore be more likely to learn things along the way.
We just wanted to reiterate that it might be more helpful to think of activities taking place on a spectrum of play. What we mean is, there will be activities that are more 'pure' play activities and activities that have less play taking part. We don't want anyone to be thinking we're saying you shouldn't be offering activities that 'control' the play or are more adult led. These activities may well be important to teaching new skills, for example. What we want to do is help you to think about the activities you offer so that you can think critically about if they are providing the learning that you want them to.
So if we want the most impact from our activities, value the process more than the outcome. And keep it playful!
This half term my team and I have created a performance space within our room. It was following our observations of how much our children love to dress up, sing, dance and perform. Opportunities to observe children in this area is always a joy to see but can be limited if the environment doesn’t allow or provide these experiences. Using all free and donated items our ‘performance area’ was born! Staff members asked for donations via local selling pages on Facebook and eureka - we acquired a keyboard, paper jam rock guitar, battery guitar with effects and ....a violin!!! We also managed to talk nicely with our site manager who found us a sturdy pallet complete with platform. A quick visit on Amazon completed the area using silver glitter curtains and some additional laminated stars and pictures, along with the dressing-up box, saw a quick and effortless transformational area of the room.
We easily could have gone with a Chinese restaurant or a ‘shop’ role play area which would have been less engaging to the children and largely would have resulted in the same type of play being carried out. However, we wanted to challenge children’s thinking, allow creativity and let our children shine!
Who doesn’t love a ticketed performance?! Pass the popcorn!
When a child plays on their own they are in complete control of their activity. They decide what their play involves, how their play develops and when to stop. This level of control gives the child the engagement that makes play so powerful. The control comes from allowing certain things to happen and preventing other things from not happening. For example, when playing with construction toys, a child decides which pieces to use to represent whatever it is they are building. This could be defined by the pieces themselves (maybe some of the pieces are specifically designed represent certain things, such as windows or trees) or the child defines what the piece is (they might use a block to represent a door). The child is free to stop building whenever they want to.
When children play together, the activity develops in a similar way. All the children must decide together how the activity progresses and it does so by children allowing the ideas of others to shape the play. There is potential for one child to be the 'leader' but this only happens with consensus from all of the children involved because without agreement, the play will fall apart. If the child feels the activity is no longer what they want to do, if they feel they can no longer accept the 'rules' then they are free to leave the game.
So what about adults? It's certainly possible for adults to play with children but because they are usually seen as being 'in charge' a child may feel that they are unable to leave the activity. This can easily mean that there is no play happening any more! This is where adults need to be very careful with their interactions when interrupting or initiating play. Practitioners need to know their children and the children need to trust the adults. That way adults can make the right decision with play:
But how do you choose which to do when? It is generally accepted that deeper learning takes place when children are most interested and engaged with their activity. The greatest levels of interest and engagement will take place when children are freely allowed to choose their play. So where possible we want children to feel that they are in control. We may adjust the environment to give different learning opportunities or we may integrate ourselves into the play but we should keep in mind that if we want the children to be playing then we need to allow them control.
After all, if there's one thing us adults are good at - it's not being in complete control, right?!
We've spent lots of time recently thinking critically about how our EYFS works. We've especially been looking at how to encourage high levels of engagement to make sure learning is maximised. You may have noticed we've shared some blogs and quotes recently about play - for example this blog by Teacher Tom.
In trying to help us think more clearly about this we began to try to develop a basic definition of play. This would help us more clearly create opportunities and support our children to learn through play.
In his blog, 'The Value of Play 1: The Definition of Play gives Insights' Peter Gray sums up his definition of play by suggesting 5 characteristics, based on other people who have studied the subject before him.
Unpicking our panicked questions required us to remind ourselves that play comes in many different forms. We all know that children play with building blocks and that pretending to cook food in a home corner is also play. When we use board games we say "We're playing a game!" and we have all heard children shout about "playing" football or tag. So it's helpful, when considering if children are playing or working, to think about the context of the activity we are observing or planning.
The final thing that Gray talked about that really helped us unpick the play/work conundrum was not to think of play as binary. It's not helpful to think that children are either playing or their not. It's much more helpful to think of playing as a scale. Perhaps on one end of the scale a child is 100% playing: they've chosen their own activity, imposed their own rules, they are actively involved and are using their imagination to develop their play. On the other end of the scale the child is playing very little: their activity has been imposed upon them, they have no choice of how to undertake it, the outcome is valued by the adult more than the process and their is no imaginative thinking going on. And when you put it like that - it doesn't sound 'fun' at all!
Over the next couple of blogs we'll look at the definitions in more detail to help judge different types of activities and how much play is going on!