When was the last time you were so nervous that your hands couldn’t stop shaking? When you lost your appetite because you felt tense or couldn’t sleep through nervous tension? My last time was about a minute ago when I began to think about going to Athens tomorrow to be part of the Play On Early Education Conference. I’ll be speaking in front of a ton of people about play and the magic of children, something that I’m confident to do if it wasn’t for the possibility that some of the giants of Early Years might be in the room!
I’m trying to re-shape my self-perception of nerves and instead see them as a product of excitement, which is definitely something I’m feeling ahead of the trip. My message that play and the magic of children mustn’t be eroded by the school system will, I hope, be well-received!
Part of my nerves/excitement is based around the fact that I’ve made the decision to no longer think that I’ve got to defend play. I’m done with that approach in a way. I think it’s time to come out of the Early Years ‘cupboard’ with a sense of steely determination and show the system that children have a rightful place in their own learning journey and that play with all its potential, when combined with skills based direct teaching and high quality interactions, can not only enable children hugely but can also alter the perception with communities that school isn’t for them or their children.
It’s going to be the central message of my talk this Thursday in Athens - if we accept that play reveals a door to enter the magic realm of children with all its wonderful potential and its ability to add to children’s sense of self, and if we see children as being capable, curious and creative through their play and their seventh sense of imagination, and if we accept that our role as adults is to go further and deeper into the magic of children then why would we, once they start school or KS1, take the decision to turn them around and frogmarch them back out through the door that leads to the magic realm, brick it up and then never go there again?
If we see children as capable, curious and creative isn’t it our moral imperative to never erode that? Shouldn’t a generation add to the next generation’s being-ness or soul rather than diminish it? Isn’t it our duty to explore a path that skills children whilst at the same time creates the conditions for children to thrive within themselves, so that they perceive themselves as having value, a ‘language’, an identity? School shouldn’t be something that children cope with - it should be an adventure, an experience that is done with, not done to...
I hear this question so many times about play in Reception:
“ If children play in Reception then how will they cope in Year 1?”
There are so many assumptions that underly this question but ultimately it reveals this implied question:
“How will the children thrive when they get dragged out of the magic realm?”
Yes, there are many great Year 1 classrooms out there that embrace play and playful pedagogy but they’re not the norm, they’re not the system. There’s many that expect a transition to be Y1 practice in Reception in Summer Term, rather than quality EYFS practice in Y1.
So in a way it’s a great question to be asked by schools simply because if we re-phrase it around magic, identify and moral duty it can become a self-answering one and a challenge reflected back to the system. How can it continue the journey into the magic, how can it add to children, how will it shape a generation? Play-based pedagogy, emotional connection to learning and, just as importantly, transformative connection with family and community have to be at the heart.
Who knows, if these conditions came about there might even be a chance that parents do that bit of home reading we expect them to do each week...
Here’s to nerves, here’s to excitement, and here’s to Greece...
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....