Play Based Learning

Effective Teaching & Learning in a Play-Based School Environment

Sarah Aiono & Linda Cheer

What is Play?
Primarily, play is:

  • self-chosen and self-directed;
    • Children need to have the opportunity to quit.
    • Children need to problem solve themselves. (It grows intrinsic motivation.)
  • process rather than product driven;
    • its about the means rather than the end.
    • We don't have to always 'do' something with the e.g. poem
  • contains structures or rules established by the players themselves;
    • Play vs games or sports
  • imaginative, non-literal and removed from reality;
    • These days, children are faced with reality most of the time.
    • Play allows for imagination/magic to develop.
  • occurs between those who are active, alert and non-stressed.
    • Play/imagination happens in the pre-frontal cortex.  If stress is present, the child is not able to be working in the pre-frontal cortex.
    • Play involves higher order thinking.
Gray, 2013; Brewer, 2007

Continuum of Play

Where are we as a school?  Ranging from 4 to 7...

  • Play is your avenue to teach through play.
  • Balance between self-directed learning and learning through play.  This is the art of teaching.
  • When students are working in the Sone of Proximal Development, this is where we can coach.
  • We can 'guide play' 
  • Adult scaffolding is essential

Traditional Teaching Methods - Teacher is in charge
Teaching through 'Free Play' - Children are in charge
Teaching through 'Guided Play' - Collaborative Learning Relationship

It is our job to document what we are seeing in play.  As children get older, this responsibility moves more towards the child.

What does 'A Play Based Learning Environment' mean?
  • S are in control of their own learning.
  • S are active and fully engaged
  • S take part in rich conversations with their peers and their teacher.
  • S choose and manipulate loose parts to enable them to engage in authentic play.
  • The teacher is seen as a facilitator, guided and scaffolding the learning.
  • The teacher responds to the urges and the developmental stages of the students.
  • The teacher is able to link the learning in the play to the curriculum document.
What are higher order cognitive and socio-emotional skills?

Children develop confidence to overcome problems - brings a sense of satisfaction, builds resilience.

Play increases the size of the pre-frontal cortex!

Social and emotional skills are key to the pre-frontal cortex.  How important for these to develop.

What are the implications for RSS and your values?
  • Agency, Creativity & Excellence: How is this achieved by your students?

Barriers & Challenges to Implementing Play
See whiteboard

Continuum of Assessment through Play

Pre - Operational: 3 - 7 years of age

Concrete Operational Cognitive Stage: 7 - 12 years of age

There are a lot of curriculum concepts, that pre-operational children, simply can't do.  We are asking children to do things that they are not capable of doing.
For example: 
  • Can't hold numbers in their head.
  • Can't do reversibility
    • e.g. 'Do you have a sister?' Yes; 'Does your sister have a brother?' No

Parent Education - Developing in a healthy way.  Need to talk about Mental Health.

Two most important things...
  1. Resourcing
  2. You, the teacher
The Role of the Teacher in Play

  • The facilitator
  • Spray and walk away - know when to add.
    • I wonder what would happen if you did...
    • Have you thought about...
      • Don't forget to walk away!
  • Don't solve the problems!
Socio-dramatic play - where children are playing and narrating the play at the same time.  This is the highest form of higher order thinking in concrete-operational children.
We want children to be able to play their learning - don't stop at the research - let children role play it out. 

"Mature, sustained socio-dramatic play is the most important type of play.  This is when executive functioning develops." Guidini

So, how??
The Urge to Play

Children don't learn in subjects!  The curriculum is an adult construct.
Children learn through schema/urges.  Urges encourage the neurological pathways to 'come online'. Neural pathways grow through nurture and play.

Urges/schema are not just part of children - these are part of all of us.

We need to be in touch with student's urges.

  • Take your students outside wherever possible.
  • Construction - includes coding, robotics, minecraft - so can be intellectual as well as physical
  • Think about resourcing with relation to urges
Adults often don't pick up the signals that children are giving us.
Children are always in their element, we just need to know what they are!

Take time to observe - is it loose or not?  Play can be messy, rough and ...

The Theory of Loose Parts "An environment which is rich in open-ended materials and real materials, invokes children to experiment, engage, construct and invent; invites them to tinker, to manipulate and to play." Nicholson, 1972

Use real things!  Real tools, real buckets, real cups etc...This shows that we trust them.  If we trust kids, they will look after them!  Use things that have no perceived purpose.

Tinkering School - see TED Talk

Loose Parts and the Role of the Provocation
What 'small loose parts' can you use in your classroom?
  • Setting up invitations to play after shared reading can assist those learners who have difficulties with creative ideas.
  • What loose parts could be on hand for the following books?
    • The Lighthouse Keepers' Lunch
    • Rodney Rat and the Sunken Treasure 
    • Tyrannosaurus Drip
    • The Cheese Trap
    • Billy Goats Gruff
Loose parts are loose parts!  They don't have to go with particular things...

Could we use our 'Reading Drawer' to introduce these bags to our play time.

Try to avoid dressups that you can only be one thing.  Fabrics are good.  Masks (from $2 Shop) are good - white ones.  

Shells, sparkles, tinfoils

Potion Table - capacity - measuring cups, plastic containers, out of date pantry things work well!  At the end, hose it down!

A Team Challenge - go out and get resources!

Ideally, maximum of 2 guided reading groups in a day.

For part of team meeting - everyone bring a photo - open up the curriculum document.  What was going on?

Teachers need a camera and a notebook.  You WILL NOT remember!

If a curriculum area/strand is not being covered, build a provocation around this.

Learning Stories with learning identified.

  • A narrative description of the learning process rather than a documentation of the final product (e.g. the level attained or the learning achieved.
  • Recognition of the student as an active learner through observation and reflection.
  • Gives teachers a new set of eyes on the learner - focusses on key competencies and learning dispositions and the role the teacher plays in supporting the students urges and interests.
  • Allows parents and students a 'voice' in the assessment process.
  • Group learning stories
  • Kids need concrete - print them out and put in a book!
  • 'Narrative Assessment' - Down the Back of the Chair - book to help with Learning Stories
  • Parent education - posters with curriculum included.

ERO - How do you know that it is making a difference?  ERO want proof...

NS are a reporting requirement not a teaching tool.  We are not required to teach to the standards, we are required to teach the curriculum.

Children actually transition into a more formal setting very well as they have the soft skills in place.

There is a place for technology but be careful!  Does it fit with the definition of play?  It can be a tool in play...


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