Saturday, 18 August 2018

Before we get started with play...

Play-based learning is on the rise (quietly does a happy dance) but with that comes the risk of bandwagon jumping.  Bandwagon jumping happens frequently when the 'next new thing' comes along, even though play is hardly the 'next new thing,'  Bandwagon jumping means that little thought is given to the why or how, with the most thought being given to how to get the the end point right now.

I urge caution and reflection before anyone makes changes to how they do things in their classroom.  Firstly because I believe you must have your own why, and this can not be, just because everyone else is doing it and secondly if we leap into things quickly, it is more likely that one or two negative comments from people who do not believe in play will lead us to backtrack just as quickly.   To stand firm behind our practice and the importance of play, we must fully trust in it ourselves, and for that to happen, we have to allow ourselves time.  Play could mean a dramatic change to the pedagogies in our classrooms today, and we do not want to get this wrong.

Firstly our why.  I believe it is crucial that we all have our own why and sometimes this takes time to just reflect, discuss, share and find out.  My why began with an inquiry into engagement and motivation back in 2012.  This inquiry made me much more open to honestly appraising my own practice and led to us trying various ideas like discovery time, developmental groups,  junk shed time, removing school rules, and mantle of the expert.  All of these things served to show me the power of play and the capability of children.  The inquiry also went hand in hand with some deep delving into the lack of oral language and vocab children were coming in with, and an ever growing diagnosis of processing disorder for some of our puzzling children.  Because I was in a state of honest reflection I was entirely ready to meet my student x he was the one that opened my eyes to the failings in our traditional new entrant programme.

To understand why this was such a breakthrough for me you have to know the 'me' from then.  I was convinced that believing children were capable meant pushing them into academic learning like reading and writing straight away because 'they could do it.'  I believed play belonged in ECE and would often become very frustrated that they had not even been taught to write their name.  I lacked any real understanding of developmentally appropriate learning and had a lot to learn from my ECE colleagues.

I met student x at the right time.  We had already started a little on incorporating playful approaches and I was ready to be very honest with myself and stop my deficit thinking in terms of the children and their readiness for learning and start thinking about what I could change.  Student X had real difficulty with following instructions, answering simple questions and appeared lost 98% of the time.  Rather than just accepting that there were processing issues going on (although it did definitely go through my mind and we did make referrals) we took a proactive approach, implementing several oral language approaches along with a small play-based class to assist him and his peers.  The results were really pleasing and now, although much older, student x is working well within expected academic levels, but also (and probably much more important) has some great dispositions in place to ensure he will continue to experience success in life.

He is my why, because he showed me (along with listening to Nathan Wallis and a lot of other reading) how implementing developmentally appropriate practice could benefit myself and my children.

Taking this process slowly, implementing one part of the puzzle at a time allowed me to form a strong trust in play and in turn a trust in myself.  Because I have this trust in play and an understanding of why play is best for my children, I can stand firmly behind this when questioned.  I don't have that flicker of doubt that I would have had if I had leapt into play headfirst and attempted to put the puzzle together all at once.

My advice is to start slowly, find your why and change one thing at a time.  Do your research, see the power of play in action in your own classroom and in the classroom of others, note all the wonderful positive things you see in the play so you can truly trust it.  Talk to others, share ideas, reflect on what you are doing and allow the changes to unfold naturally because they are necessary and right for you and your children, not because others have told you that is the way to do it.

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