Why play is essential for developing independent learning in the early years

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Many people in education take a rather pessimistic view of a heavily play-based approach to teaching and learning in the early years. But I firmly believe that children learn best when they are actively engaged in their play.

Play is an essential part of the development of every child. It is our job as skilled early childhood practitioners to facilitate learning by manipulating and supporting play to ensure that learning is compelling. If we’re modeling and scaffolding effectively, there’s no need to put them in a box and spoon them education.

Stepping into our vibrant Early Years Reception Unit, where play is used as the primary vehicle for learning, things can seem a bit chaotic to the untrained eye. But if you take a closer look, you will see that the indoor and outdoor learning environment has been designed to high standards and to develop children’s independence skills. The continuous offer has been organized in such a way as to allow children to continue their learning in the absence of an adult. Resources in each area of ​​delivery are well organized and appropriate for age and stage, allowing children to make choices. The environment is constantly changing and helps students develop the skills they need.

Themed writing space

Take, for example, the writing area.

At the very beginning of the school year, when children first enter the reception, practitioners put large pieces of plain paper on the floor. Children choose for themselves from a carefully chosen range of stimulating and attractive marking tools, which are clearly labeled and neatly organized in different sizes and colors. Children draw and experiment with early marking independently, with help from adults only if necessary. By lying on their stomachs, children can develop basic stability. Tummy time builds upper body strength, which is necessary before the child is able to properly hold a pencil.

Later in the year, as children develop phonological awareness, tables, notepads, and writing tubes are brought into the writing area. Children are offered a wider range of stationery, often dressed according to their interests. Dressing up a Spiderman-themed pencil box often encourages young boys to access the writing area independently and to write for a specific purpose.

Healthy balance

So what are Early Childhood Early Years (EYFS) teachers and practitioners actually doing while children are engaged in their play? Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have time to sit and drink cups of tea while the kids are having fun.

Achieving outstanding results at the end of EYFS is largely managed by facilitating a healthy balance between adult-led and child-initiated learning.

Teachers achieve high-level engagement in adult-led activities by taking the time to present them in a fun way.

There is absolutely no doubt that your average five-year-old would rather learn phonics on push bikes outside, rather than being stuck on the carpet of terror inside.

Tim Barber is Deputy Principal of St Thomas More Catholic Primary and Preschool, and Principal Founding Stage Practitioner at Hampshire County Council

This is an edited article from the June 17 edition of YOUR. This week TES magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can Click here and iOS users can Click here

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