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Children Learning Through Play

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I found this article in the latest edition of the Early Childhood Teachers’ Association journal and felt that I would like to share it with you, as it portrays the latest thinking the new early childhood learning framework and clearly explains what educators are in the process of attempting to achieve.

It is something that teachers have been trying to implement for many years, and even longer; and have, in their own way, interpreted into their classrooms.

However, there is a downside, and it is one that needs to be constantly overcome in the public thinking arena.

It is the fact that many parents, and especially grandparents, have trouble coming to terms with the fact that learning can be done through play. This is because traditionally education and schooling has been very structured and has only been seen as successful, if children are able to recite facts and figures on command. That style of education may have served many people well in the past, but in this ever changing and competitive world, we need our children to be as creative and adaptable as possible in their adult roles.

Today’s educators therefore have the responsibility of designing a learning framework in which these areas are promoted and practiced.

Belonging, Being and Becoming – the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia has a specific emphasis on play-based learning as:

A context for learning through which children organize and make sense of their social worlds, as they engage actively with people , objects and representations. (EYLF, 2009:3).

Fundamental to the Framework is the understanding that children’s lives are characterized by belonging, being and becoming. It is through play that children experience opportunities to learn as they discover, created, improvise and imagine. Most importantly, children’s immersion in their play enables them to simply enjoy being.

Early childhood educators, too, take on many roles in play with children. For example they:

  • Engage in sustained shared conversations to extend children’s thinking.
  • Provide a balance between child-led, child-initiated and educator-supported learning
  • Create learning environments that encourage children to explore, solve problems, create and construct
  • Recognize teachable moments as they occur to build on children’s learning.

Melanie Lester is an Early Childhood Teacher who has been blessed to have worked as a Teacher and Director for Kindergarten and Preschool aged children both in Brisbane and Cloncurry. She is now making exciting, new discoveries at home with her 18 month-old son.

We show we value play through…

Engaging in play. When we join children in their explorations and discoveries, we are showing them that we value their ideas, their interests and their passions.

We build on each child’s strengths through play when we…

Ask questions. When we ask questions, children become the teachers. Imparting their knowledge to us reaffirms to them what they know and what they want to know.

In a play-filled learning environment we would see… a trail of discoveries. To the untrained eye, it might appear to be a mess but if you look closely you can see that the puddle on the floor was the point where children discovered that wet chalk has a different texture to dry chalk and will write on cement differently. The puppets covered in blocks and torn up paper are actually living in a carefully created habitat. And we would see children who don’t notice ‘the mess’ because they are busy, engrossed in learning.

We are challenged/stimulated by… the children around us and our inherent quest to understand them. After years of studying how children learn and working with children to foster and support their learning, I am still challenged and stimulated every day by the joy that a child expresses when they master an new skill or make a new discovery.

A rich play-based experience or moment that I remember was… when I worked with Kindergarten-aged children. We used to send home a large paper shopping bag every few weeks – each time to a different family. We would ask parents to look through their home to find unidentified treasure – a roll of packaging labels, empty film canisters, paper plates, empty seed pods. Every few weeks it would come back, parents apologetic because they really weren’t sure what to put in and thinking that they had filled it with ‘junk’.

The children and I would tip it out onto the middle of the mat and they were excited by all the amazing things they saw. The packaging labels were exactly what they needed to put on their crates of the animals staying at the ‘Vet Surgery’. The empty film canisters were perfect for the hand creams they had mixed up earlier. The paper plates inspired a picnic morning tea in the playground. And the seed pods were just the right weight to float along the canals of the sandpit if we added water. The photos taken and displayed each afternoon helped the parents to really see the potential in these everyday items and the potential of their child’s imaginations to create learning experiences for themselves.

The acceptance of parents towards this approach is paramount to its successful implementation. And sometimes it is simply a matter of explaining to the skeptics the valuable outcomes of your actions.

I remember having to do this many years ago, when I worked as a governess on a cattle station in the Gulf of Carpentaria. I was responsible for the pre-school education of 2 children aged 3 years and 5 years. I decided that in that environment, play-based learning would be best for these children, as they were extremely isolated and the 5 year old was to start the ‘school of the air’ the following year.

After having read the children the story of the ‘Gingerbread man’ I decided that we would make our own ‘Gingerbread man ‘biscuits. We had a lovely time doing this, and the children gained a great deal from the experience. But when we took our biscuits over to the children’s mother at the main house, she expressed her disappointment at the ‘waste’ of time of this activity for the children. She would have preferred that we had spent the time engaged in more formal learning. It was not until I explained the value of the experience and the learning that took place ‘through play,’ that the children’s mother began to understand how all this works. I calmly explained to her that the children had learned a great deal about such mathematical concepts as counting (2 teaspoons); measurement (half a cup); weight (250 grams); and science (the effect of heat on the ingredients to change the form from uncooked into cooked   etc).

Therefore, as early childhood educators, we are responsible for not only, educating the children; but for educating the parents as well, so that, hopefully, together, we can develop a nation of keen lifelong learners.

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