In EYFS, teachers are incredibly adept at linking learning and play. In fact, they are skilled at knowing how to appeal to their children’s interests, how to adapt this into a variety of play situations and then how to gently guide and enable children to learn through play.
Pretty much across Europe, children begin school in a play based environment, giving them opportunities to explore, try, test, discuss and learn through play before starting a more formal education. There is so much evidence to suggest that children learn and develop faster through play than through any other medium!
However, once children enter Year 1 and certainly Year 2 and upwards, the emphasis on a more formal based learning environment takes over, and there are less and less opportunities for children to learn anything through play. Lessons are tightly managed, with children being required to complete specific tasks in a period of time, leaving much less time for self-development or child-led learning. Although this is not necessarily ideal, it is a necessity based on the UK educational requirements. But does this mean that there should be no instances where children can learn through play during the school day?
Playgrounds As Areas Of Learning
Too often, schools concentrate so much on the inside of the school and ensuring that budgets are given to subjects that will make an obvious academic difference, that school playgrounds are often found lacking in resources and equipment. Children spend over a sixth of their time out on the playground each day, and schools can be missing a trick if they underestimate the amount of learning that children can come across during playtimes!
As the word so obviously suggests, play time is a time of play. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t also be a time of learning, building skills and developing. It is of utmost importance that the skills that we teach the children each and every day, are then allowed to embed independently during play times. For example, teachers spend a good amount of their days talking to children about resilience. We want our children to be able to face a challenge, assess whether it is the right challenge for themselves, and then to keep at it until they conquer it. It’s a big skill, and one that is so important for children to develop for their future lives. But just talking about it in class isn’t going to be enough.
We need to allow children the opportunities, through play, to meet challenges and learn what resilience really means. Linking education and play through, for example, introducing a Treetops Four multi play unit, or a Play Trail into the playground will allow children to actually learn about resilience through taking on the challenges. They might not be able to balance across the leap logs first time, or they might be worried about traversing the climbing wall, but with a bit of time they will learn where their skills lie and will develop a sense of resilience which will stand by them in the classroom.
Incidental Learning In The School Day
There are so many instances of incidental learning that can take place in the playground through play, yet lots of schools are not yet building on those. Too many playgrounds are basic empty spaces with little to see and do, with the exception of equipment such as skipping ropes or hula hoops, which although will bring in some educational value, certainly aren’t the be all and end all.
Consider your school’s playground. Does it have signs and symbols dotted around which encourage the children to read? Children’s innate curiosity will be sparked the moment they see the written word, or discover a 100 square painted on the floor. Number and word recognition will happen both through independent means, but also through older and younger children playing together – children teaching their younger peers is invaluable incidental learning!
This can be taken even further with a careful consideration. In EYFS, the teachers use incidental learning on a day to day basis. They plan for moments where the children can explore their world through play without having adult guidance. This can easily be introduced onto the playground through items such as a giant abacus or a well placed blackboard. Playtimes can become an extension of the learning taking place in the classroom with just a little thought and planning!
Linking Learning And Play Is Key
It has been well researched, mainly by EYFS specialists, that learning through play is one of the strongest ways to teach children. The mere act of playing is how babies and toddlers learn about the world around them, and this doesn’t change as children get older. The only thing that changes is how schools encourage this learning style. In introducing a variety of well thought out, well planned pieces of playground equipment or enhancements, schools will quickly notice the difference in the children’s learning.
Taking this even further, some schools have introduced a Subject Leader who’s entire remit is to bring learning to the outdoors. This ensures that not only are budgets well spent, and not only is equipment appropriate and accessible to all children, but that teachers encourage learning through play at break and lunchtimes. Some schools have introduced a different resource outside each classroom each lunchtime, thus adding an extra dimension to playtimes, such as reading resources, small world play and large playground games. They actively teach the children during lesson time, how to use the outdoor equipment and the many things they can do with it, and some even introduce laminated suggestion cards to encourage children to play, and therefore learn, in a variety of ways.
Ultimately, every part of the child’s day at school should engage, inspire and teach them as much as possible, and playtimes and the playground are no exception to this. Children inherently love to play, and they love to learn from each other. Co-operative play, such as taking part in a story session using a Storyteller’s Chair, or clambering over and through tunnels and climbing mounds teaches children about sharing, co-operation, builds language skills, develops gross motor skills and teaches them how to engage an audience. Real life role play, such as playing at schools, making mud pies, running a shop or a garage, allow the children to take on the mantle of those roles and try them on for size. They use the language of real life experiences and develop skills in negotiation and discussion alongside the more obvious mathematical skills of using money or sizes.
There is literally no end to what children will imagine, invent and do if given appropriate, engaging equipment, an idea of how to start the play, and the encouragement of their teachers to learn through play! Learning through play should be the lynchpin of any good school playground, and the fantastic skills that EYFS teachers use in their classroom should continue right up until Year 6, giving every child the opportunity to learn through play, develop their skills and ultimately embed their learning in their own way and time.
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