At first, play might seem contrary to ‘serious’ education. But play is not nearly as frivolous as it sounds. On the contrary, play is recognised as a context for children’s learning (Department of Education, Training and Workplace Relations [DEEWR], 2009) and research reports the benefits of play to children’s relationship development and the development of their self-regulation, resilience and autonomy.
When children are provided with opportunities to be immersed in meaningful contexts and are empowered to make choices, learning happens (Singer, Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006) and it is play that provides this context. Children’s educational trajectories can be positively influenced when they are met with experiences that encourage their natural inclination to learn through play.
However, despite research and policy frameworks advocating for play-based approaches in the early years, educators often feel many pressures in their school or centre to take a more formalised approach.
In an educational climate when the need to demonstrate evidence-based practice has led to an increase in testing and, in some cases, the introduction of approaches such as direct instruction, it can be a challenge for early years educators to maintain quality practice by advocating for the benefits of play. Here are some suggestions for how early childhood educators can advocate for play in their own schools or centres:
- Be knowledgeable about your own practice. There is an array of research literature that explains the value of play to children’s lives and learning. (Several chapters in Learning Through Play address the value of play for children from birth to eight years of age.) As an educator, you need to be articulate the value and the evidence base behind your practice.
- Construct and regularly review your shared philosophy on early years education and care. This is key to creating a united voice for early childhood and crucial if positive change is to occur.
- Communicate the value of your play-based practice to colleagues. You could do this by sharing information about how a play-based approach in the early years is most appropriate and leads to developing skills in autonomy, inquiry, risk-taking and resilience, which assist children in later years.
- Communicate the value of your play-based practice to families. Use posters in areas that parents/care givers congregate; put up information cards in the various play spaces of your room to advocate the skills learnt in that particular area when children play. You could also add a section on play in your weekly newsletter or blog.
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009). Belonging, Being & Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia.
Singer, D.G., Golinkoff, R.M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (Eds). (2006). Play = learning: How play motivates and enhances children’s cognitive and social-emotional growth. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from <www.ebrary.com.ipacez.nd.edu.au>.