The Power of Play
This edition of He Kupu features a number of articles based on presentations made by some of the authors at the New Zealand Tertiary College - The Power of Play symposium held on 8 March 2019. The articles cover the broad spectrum of play based learning in the early childhood sector and reflect practical and theoretical perspectives of play based learning from practitioners and academics.
Early childhood educators know that play is a critical component of healthy child development. Through play, children explore their world, try on new roles, solve problems, and express themselves. One type of play that is especially important to development from early infancy through to the end of the early childhood period is unstructured, child-directed play (Ginsburg, 2007). Child-directed play is similar to free play but includes more adult engagement. This kind of play may be facilitated by an adult, but is still totally under the child’s direction and control. In an early childhood environment that is increasingly academic-centered and skill-based, this type of play may be on the decline, as many programs focus on more structured activities aimed at enhancing early literacy and numeracy skills. In response to increasing evidence of negative consequences for children because of this omission (Gray, 2011), this article offers support for teachers in maintaining child-directed play in their programs by suggesting specific strategies to try across the early childhood period. The article also provides appropriate strategies for each age and stage of the early childhood period.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, children’s play-based learning is fundamental for successful learning and development and is embedded throughout the early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early Childhood Curriculum (Te Whāriki) (Ministry of Education [MoE], 2017). While play may be viewed as active learning, playfulness is the attitude that encourages, nourishes and guides play. The curriculum, Te Whāriki (MoE, 2017), describes playfulness as a life-long disposition (habit of learning) that combines knowledge, skills, and attitudes. As such, playfulness is a way of doing and being which stems from within (being) and influences our actions and way of life (doing). It is our view as authors that in an early childhood environment, playfulness is often reserved for children while the teacher’s role is seen as supportive, informed and serious. However, the benefits of playful teachers cannot be overlooked, as early childhood professionals should not only promote play for children but also for themselves (Bruno, Gonzalez-Mena, Hernandez & Sullivan, 2013).
Risky outdoor play has been a natural and important part of children’s lives for generations. However, changes in attitudes to exposure to risk is having a negative impact on the opportunities for children to play freely in the outdoors (Cevher-Kalburan & Ivrendi, 2016). This aversion towards risky play has become a modern-day dilemma as it denies children opportunities to learn valuable lessons.
Teachers play a fundamental role in allowing children to engage in acts of risk-taking; however, some teachers struggle with balancing the health and safety of the children in their care with providing challenging and risky play opportunities. This article examines risk-taking from an appreciative perspective and offers opportunities for reflecting on factors that may influence teachers’ abilities to provide children with valuable learning experiences.
In this article, I discuss how as children we are shaped not just by the people who surround us, but also by the places and spaces in which we play. When discussing space and place in this article, I am referring to place as physical ground whereas space is a more abstract concept and could be something that is constructed. In geographical discourses, both space and place are considered “relational, socially co-produced, and dynamic” (Koops & Galic, 2017, p. 19). Spaces, in and around the child, actively contribute to children’s learning, providing children with new opportunities to engage in imaginary play. The role of spaces, imagined or real; inherited or self-constructed will be explored and links to children’s identity and autonomy will be discussed. The discussion is intended to support teachers to consider how a more nuanced understanding of space and place might impact on curriculum and pedagogical decisions within an early childhood context. I have used the two terms of space and place interchangeably to highlight the sometimes invisible boundaries between them.
In early childhood education, soft skills are known as learning dispositions (Claxton, Costa & Kallick, 2016; Laureta, 2018). In New Zealand, dispositions are embedded in the early childhood curriculum - Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early Childhood Curriculum(Te Whāriki), (Ministry of Education [MoE], 2017). The learning dispositions identified in the first curriculum in 1996 were courage and curiosity, trust and playfulness, perseverance, confidence and responsibility (MoE, 1996). A few more learning dispositions have been added recently in the revised 2017 Te Whāriki - reciprocity, creativity, imagination and resilience (MoE, 2017). In this article I use the terms soft skills or dispositions interchangeably to discuss how teachers can support the development of soft skills in children through play with reference to self control and creativity.
“[E]very child has the right… to engage in play” (United Nations, 1989, article 31)
Early childhood teachers often find themselves having to defend the play-based early childhood curriculum to parents who may prefer a more traditional and skills-based approach to teaching and learning. This article will support teachers to understand current trends and perspectives in order to be able to articulate the value of play for children’s learning and development. It focuses on the four commitments outlined in The Code of Professional Responsibility (Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, [EC], 2017) and also draws upon the New Zealand early childhood curriculum - Te Whāriki He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early Childhood Curriculum (Te Whāriki) (Ministry of Education [MoE], 2017) to discuss what is meant by a professional commitment to play. Our aim in this article is to empower teachers to be strong advocates for play and to be proud to share why and how they teach through play. Further, we highlight the role of teachers in advocating for play to families and whānau, the teaching profession and lastly to communities. In this article we also refer to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system theory (as cited in MoE, 2017) to articulate the relationships between the child and the different contexts in which they are situated. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory places the child in the centre of all relationships and interactions with the world around them and underpins the focus on learning in Te Whāriki. Although based on The Code of Professional Responsibility (EC, 2017) our discussion begins with the commitment to learners rather than to the sector, as we feel that children should be the central consideration for play and a play-based pedagogy within early childhood education (ECE).
Dr Elena Chloe enters the room briskly as if she is on a serious mission to save the planet from invaders who are throwing trash over the school playground. Donned in a red vest with a blue letter E on the back, our superhero is in true form. She peers out of the window carefully examining the birds and deer and anyone who might intrude on the currently well-cropped space. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she sees a ruffle in the bush as the littering culprit heads for the swings. Zap she reaches her hand forward with an outstretched finger and sends positive vibrations that immediately levels the troublemaker who bolts from the set. The schoolchildren are safe again. Dr Elena Chloe has earned her title as “Dr” because she helped people.
Over the past three decades, the image of the child in early childhood education, in Aotearoa New Zealand, has undergone a transformational shift; from a deficit view (the teacher focuses on what the child cannot do) to a strength-based pedagogical approach (the teacher focuses on the competent child). The early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early Childhood Curriculum (Te Whāriki) (Ministry of Education [MoE], 2017) promotes the image of children as competent and capable, including the capacity for “making decisions and encountering different points of view” (p. 9). Sociocultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978), has disrupted dominant western human development and learning discourses. This article discusses a research project that explored the extent to which this disruption to developmental discourse had impacted on teachers’ images of boys; by examining the images of three to four years old boys described by early childhood teachers in one region of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Children draw on their familiarity with the everyday practices of their families in play. In this article, we explore family interpretations of one child’s (Mee) play from a larger qualitative study of the everyday experiences of newly settled families in an Aotearoa New Zealand playgroup. Mee’s encounters with sand and flowers in the playgroup connected to her early experiences in Kiribati, where she lived with her grandparents during her first year. Mee’s mother, a participant-researcher in the study and co-author of this paper, and Mee’s grandmother, Tane, informed the research process with their intimate knowledge of Mee’s lived experiences, the Kiribati language and their family’s everyday practices. We share two key moments in our research collaboration, one during data collection and another during data analysis, that illustrate the power of family expertise to better understand the meanings children negotiate in play.
Play lies at the heart of quality early childhood education (ECE) with the benefits to children and their learning and development well documented throughout early years literature (Edwards, 2017; Hedges, 2018; Siraj-Blatchford, 2009; White, Ellis, O’Malley, Rockel, Stover & Toso, 2008; Wood, 2010;). Given the power of play to support learning, primary teachers are showing an increased interest in how play can be implemented in junior classrooms (Briggs & Hansen, 2012; Blucher, Aspden & Jackson, 2018; Davis, Davis, 2015; Davis, 2018; Fesseha & Pyle, 2016; Peters, 2010; Martlew, Stephen & Ellis, 2011 ). However, primary teachers may feel a tension between notions of child-led play, defined as a “freely chosen, personally directed, intrinsically motivated behaviour” (National Playing Fields Association, 2000, p. 6) and the more traditional teacher-directed classroom practices. If children are to self-direct their play, what do teachers do and how do they teach? Add to this tension curriculum requirements such as policy, assessment, routines and achievement foci, and primary teachers might find it difficult to blend an authentically play-based approach with current primary teaching practices.
Natural settings are gaining increasing recognition as important learning environments because of the associated benefits such as health, fitness, and environmentalism. However, this is under theorised as a context for language development. The three concepts of play, language and natural outdoor environments are intertwined. Through play, children adapt to and shape their environments, while the context influences the nature of their play, and their talk. Nature based outdoor environments are dynamic settings, providing multiple clues and meanings for new words to be learnt within that context. Different environments offer different opportunities and influence on language development. Multi-sensory experiences in natural settings help children to develop the theories necessary for constant intellectual growth, through stimulating imaginations and affording an ideal environment for resourcefulness, inventiveness, and language development. Both in the literature and in my experience, the benefits of play, relative to other strategies, is that children can be more focused, imaginative and innovative which allows for further practice, and to play with newly developing language. When learning a language and playing in the outdoors, children are learning much more than words. They are learning about life itself and how their world works.
The book Serious Fun: How Guided Play Extends Children’s Learning, co-edited by Marie M. Masterson and Holly Bohart and published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), has been written by highly acclaimed authors, with contributors involved in extensive research of children’s learning through play. This is an exceptional, timely book that takes a unique perspective on children’s play and elucidates the importance of not only play, but also the teachers’ role as intentional facilitators. With each chapter illustrating how to meaningfully combine children’s interests with learning objectives and opportunities, this book targets deepening children’s learning, and making play both educational and enjoyable.
This book is written in a very accessible manner, making the read easy, yet informative. The author draws not only on a wide range of theories, he also peppers his work with links to his own children and family, thus creating opportunities for the reader to draw similarities or difference to their own situation.
Binky Laureta, Chelsea Bracefield, Cheryl McConnell, Christine Vincent-Snow, Jan Beatson, Jennifer Fiechtner, Kath Duncan, Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, Kay Albrecht, Matikoora (Mati) Itonga Marea, Mary M. (Meg) Jacobs, Pearl D'Silva, Phoebe Tong, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Sarah Aiono, Sue Nicolson, Tara McLaughlin, Tracy Riley, Vikki Hanrahan