"A thought that never changes / Remains a stupid lie / It's never been quite the same..."
Your Silent Face, New Order
Across 2019, it has been a very real privilege to spend time in settings and schools helping to support practice and grow the conditions for play to thrive. So many educators want children to experience joy and wonder across their day, and it's been encouraging to see this happen with practitioners who are eager to enable choice, creativity and collaboration. In nurseries and preschools, there seems to be a strong desire for play to flourish, and it has been a blessing to have time in these settings, connecting with the magic of children and its infinite possibilities.
Play and freedom to explore is critical in our pre-school early years settings, simply because the echoes of play need to follow children into school, and do so like a happy twin through their educational journey. If play isn't alive in our pre-schools, then it becomes a lost word: parents aren't opened up to seeing just how important it is, and then don't expect it within their child's school experience. When this happens, when play is stifled, the Adult World is in danger of creating 'play deficit' - a very real and damaging experience for children. Play deficit pushes children to ‘the side of their own lives’ and denies them the ability to follow their own learning adventure.
It is my belief that play is NOT a choice for settings to ignore or diminish. Play is there to embrace. We have to put a welcome mat out for play. It is the very programme that sits inside of children, a complusion, a desire to explore and discover. Play is an essential part of childhood - sewn up in the very tapestry of development and self-emergence.
Children not only have the right to play, they also have the right to be valued, to be listened to, to be treasured. They deserve play, they deserve to be seen through an alternate lens than the current Adult World view adopted by so many schools in particular. The condensing of play, the restrictions on children's freedom to choose and to have a hand in the trajectories of learning experience, exists because the Adult World clings to the models of control, of teaching by instruction, of Ego.
Play and the advocacy of play is perhaps a form of counter culture. It can be seen as a challenge to the existing educational norms. By their very nature, the choices of children, the expressions of freedom and self-identity, are often seen with distrust by the Adult World because they don’t seem to ‘fit’. The traditional view is that learning opportunities need to be sequenced, tightly planned and closely timetabled. Play goes against the grain - it is as though it is a child’s declaration against conformity.
And yet play, or at the very least the strong echoes of play, have such significant potential within educational models if we are to truly value children. Counterpointed with a combination of high quality teaching, authentically playful interactions and a learning landscape that nurtures collaborative experiences but also makes space for the individual, play is an open door that waits to be stepped through.
And the likely reason why the Adult World doesn't step through it, is because it has forgotten its existence. The Adult World has solidified its thinking, almost as though it has hardened its heart to the joy of play. As much as I have seen educators striving to offer play within their practice, I have equally heard of settings and schools who seem to believe that children are 'things' to be processed, to be rapidly progressed, to be weighed on the scales of accountability, to be tested and scrutinised. Several English schools now seem to be giving children the Year One Phonics Screening Test in Term 3 of Reception "to see if they are ready for Year 1..." Homework and spellings tests, lessons on adjectives and nouns, demands on children to produce so that learning can be evidenced. Fear and misunderstanding spill out from the Adult World and erase the space for children to be, to dream, to feel and to imagine.
And the irony is that if we gave children the space for these things, the Adult World could have its progress and its weighing scales. When children play, they want to learn, they want to engage, they want to explore. That is the programme of play. It stands before the Adult World waiting to be acknowledged. If the Adult World could see that skills are integral to play, that it is alive with an abundant scope for learning to take any trajectory it chooses and it doesn't matter because everything, everything has the 3Ms at its heart. Making Conversation, Mathematics and Mark Making opportunities exist in all things. They are like a hidden soul inside each and every object and experience - they wait for the Adult World to change its lens, to see, to value.
Because if the Adult World doesn't recognise play because it has forgotten it, then there is at least a faint memory of it, it is out there somewhere in Adult World consciousness for the advocates of play to be the reminder, to stir the memories, to rekindle the joy of childhood once lived, and evoke the wonder, the curiosity and the delight in living playfully.
It is why we need to sing the song of play, because it's the greatest song of all and one that the Adult World deep in its heart is more than capable of singing - in fact, it's a necessity....
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....