The Gospel of Play...
"Outworn maps of consciousness, sometimes have to be re-drawn..." Trinity, The Lilac TIme
Having recently worked in several schools who are exploring the development of play within their practice, I've begun to notice a thread linking each one no matter where they are in the country. It's based around a concern over what parents might think to a more play-based approach in the classroom. It's a legitimate thing to be mindful of, primarily because most parents have a set view of what education is, based on their own experiences and 'story' of growing up. It's often embedded in the notion that tables and chairs, quiet and order are what learning is, what it looks like. I can also think of many teachers who share this view but that's another blog!
In the times where I've been supporting schools and this concern has been raised, I've gone back to the analogy of the door into the magic realm of children which play opens for us. As we go in and further and deeper as teachers and practitioners, it is our role to call others to follow us, to show them that the door exists and sing the song of play loud enough so that they take those first tentative steps through it. If we don't do this then we keep the magic to ourselves and we inhibit the real power that play offers us - to change education from what it was and is to what it can be.
Encouraging parents to see play in its true light, that it isn't frivolous or has less meaning than the pedagogy of teach. test, repeat, isn't necessarily straightforward but that shouldn't prevent us from trying and there are several ways to exemplify the power of play:
1. Turning your passion into a clear why
You see that play is important, you want to create the conditions for it to thrive and you see how playful pedagogy can have a future beyond the exit doors of your setting. Personal passion is one thing - proclaiming it is another. I'm not suggesting becoming a play street preacher, but if we can clearly articulate the why-ness of our pedagogy then we can better capture our parents' imagination. I find it helps to ask them what kinds of children they want their children to be. Do they want creative, curious, engaged and well-balanced children? Do they want children to have access to engaging environments both indoor and out? Do they want children with soul and something about them? It's hard to say no to any of these - it's what play can deliver time and time again after all. Demonstrate how progress can be made through child-led and playful experiences, how the 'academics' of reading, writing and maths can be achieved but with joy if children aren't forever filling out sheets or producing for the needs of the adult. Let's tell the story of play, of its potential - it should act as an invitation to come through the door and into the magic realm.
2. Interrogate your environment
Take a step back and look at your walls, resources and provision. If you are passionate about creativity coming from the child, for the child and their purpose then celebrate this. If you know that real creativity is about exploration and meaning-making, then show this in your displays. If you cling to putting up artwork that is identi-kit then the message to parents is that this is the value you give creativity - it doesn't reflect your why! It might also have a power if you work in a school to share a similar message to staff about the creative process - I've seen many a 'copy and paste' art project in my time in and around schools. If we change perceptions in Early Years about creativity, make statements to our parents about what it is and what it isn't then we begin to transform thinking and expectations.
3. Get them in
I've found that parent workshops, invitations to stay and play, chats at the door, 'little and often' parent meetings and photos of the richness of everyday play go a long, long way with parents. Hearts and minds need to be transformed so if we hide play away then we change little. Communicate through dialogue and demonstration wherever and however you can. Parents won't understand the journey that you're going on, so you have to spell it out for them. And by spell it out, I don't necessarily mean peppering motivational quotes about play around or telling them that children need to play because it is good for them although that of course is important - parents' main concerns will probably be along the lines of academic output - "lovely climbing a tree but what about maths and writing?" We need to be the voice of play and how it creates the conditions for skills development, for children to participate in their own learning adventure.
It's not easy. It's not instant. However it is achievable. I hope wherever you are in own practice that you have parents on board, parents for whom you have shown the door and who have begun to follow you. And if not, keep singing the song of play, of magic - the louder we sing, the more likely at least it is that parents will hear and feel that they too can enter...
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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....