The highly brilliant 'The Lost Words' by Robert Macfarlane is promoted thus:
"All over the country, there are words disappearing from children's lives. Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn - all gone. The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly falling from our children's minds"
The book is a sumptuous love letter to the natural world that shifts attention away from the modern screen-based day-to-day and instead shines a light back on to the magic of nature. For many it's seen as a highly important book as there is a shared sense that children's experiences are becoming less and less engaged with wonder and dream.
It's a feeling that is arguably reflected in the landscape of Early Years too with the lexicon of formality and 'school-readiness' being increasingly seen as a positive for children aged 4 years old and the 'value' of play and playful learning appearing to be called in to question. Yet play is not only undeniably important for all children's development but is an unequalled tool for learning in itself.
The rise in pressure for Early Years to adopt formal strategies not only assumes that these strategies are effective even for Year 1 children but is also based on an educational model that sees children as product, outcome and of preparation for what comes next. The view that more formal learning should take place in Early Years is highly data and measurable outcomes driven since it tries to impose a ‘how to teach’ above a true ‘why to teach’.
These are not the constituents for a real vision for children or a 'why', a flag to follow. They are the by-product of education based on results above all else. We have to ask ourselves what we want for children. Do we want an increase of systematic learning that is 'done' to children that hugely reduces the learning experiences that put children at the heart? Do we want tick-box children or do we want a generation that has a growing emotional connection to their learning adventure that sings with imagination and joy?
Play cannot be turned into a 'dirty' word. It cannot be allowed to be diluted. It has to be embraced as the rich tool for language development, social skills, creativity and absolutely for reading, writing and maths. Yes, formal teaching of skills has a place in Early Years but only if play cannot have the necessary impact and it should not take dominance over play. Instead if anything we need to see formal teaching, writing at tables or in exercise books, Singapore maths and on and on as an extra layer that can be used to enhance play and play experiences not one that should.
Play must come first in Early Years and must keep the balance tipped in its favour because play and only play opens up the realm of children’s magic. “Because they do it in year one” shouldn’t be a louder argument than “because it is developmentally appropriate” and it shouldn’t be presented as having greater value for learning either.
So here's a challenge for this week: get talking about play to whoever will listen. Count the number of times this week that you communicate your passion for play to others and not just to those who share your commitment. Try and make time to spread the word about the power of play. Talk about how play is impacting on children’s development. Challenge, question and above all be a force that keeps 'play' at the centre of the lexicon of learning. It's critical it is there. Let’s not be the ones to let it fall out of use...
Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....