Wednesday, 25 July 2018 04:13

A Child’s Right To Play

There was a recent article in the Sunday Mail that used words like ‘free play’ ‘unstructured play’ ‘open-ended play’ ‘no rules’ and ‘free-choice’ in a negative light, claiming these moments were lost opportunities for learning in childcare and preschool. I actually laughed out loud and covered my mouth in disbelief at the same time.

Let’s unpack some of these keywords from a Margaret Ives perspective...

Free-choice’ is a child’s right. Every child has the right to play, to choose their own friends, to have an opinion and choices.

Unstructured-play’ is a product of shared power, we don’t define a child’s learning potential we simply empower children with choice and support their unique inquiries, learning processes and needs.

Open-ended play’ means that potential learning opportunities are endless and more meaningful to the individual.

Free play’ children have the right to play and make decisions for themselves, they are competent and capable individuals from birth with a right to explore their environment and make sense of their world.

No rules’ at MICCC we replace rules with shared values and boundaries. Children are involved in risk assessments and discussions about being safe, kind, respectful, responsible and sustainable, these conversations and educator role modelling guide children’s understanding of their environment and interactions with others. 

At Margaret Ives we believe that interest-based and process-based learning leads to an environment where children learn more about themselves in free play. Learning can be difficult for some parents to see from the unstructured play appearance of drop off and pickup, this is why we draw parent attention to their child’s real life learning through daily discussions and documentation. Focused learning is embedded in the few routine moments that exist in each room and become part of the children’s everyday thinking and communication. For example children volunteer to help set lunch tables in all rooms, these are moments rich in numeracy as children problem solve how to position and arrange chairs around different table shapes. As tables are wiped clean educators use words like; edge, corner, side, top, flat, square, circle, curved and straight as well as discussing cleanliness and hygiene. Children use their understanding of number to count out bowls and utensils and place them around the table, learning from each other as they listen to each other and work together. They estimate how much water each table might need in their jug, measuring and filling them. Table cloths are stretched and positioned to fit different shapes. There are also literacy moments where songs are sung as tables are washed. To the children this is a moment of play, a simple moment of fun, choice, power and decision making... there are no rules, they are competent and capable individuals, they’ve got this and educators are here to support and scaffold.

We at MICCC don’t abide by the principles of just one formal philosophy, instead we are influenced by many different early childhood philosophies, theorists and perspectives and have developed a Centre philosophy that is unique to our MICCC community.

Our focus is to respect children, to ensure they have ownership of their own learning and childhood. We combine the strengths, knowledge and interests of our educators with the strengths, knowledge, interests and needs of the children for the most meaningful learning experiences.

Vygotsky’s social constructivist theory helps us understand that concepts mature and develop when children are collaborating with others, they take in different perspectives, hypothesise and problem solve, building social skills and knowledge at the same time. It is our job as educators to notice the precious moments when children are in their zone of proximal development in play and not ‘interrupt’ them but support and scaffold their own thoughts and understanding. There are many different roles our educators play to ensure children are getting the most out of their play opportunities, sometimes that adult role is simply watching and observing as the child comes to their own realisation or plays with another child to transform understanding. Sometimes children invite us to be part of their play or we create our own play along side to help children explore new ideas. Our environments are full of resources of interest that we know will draw children in and challenge their own thinking. There are moments when educators tweak or re-set experiences to keep children focused on their play and we are always guiding, role modelling and supporting respectful interactions for social play. We give children strategies to use for entering and engaging in social play and we are listening mediators in times of dispute. This is all done without ‘interrupting’ play, the play continues, child rights are protected and they learn to be well rounded individuals who own their identity.

With regards to the Reggio Emilia philosophy we are advocates for the 100 languages and supporting children to find their passion in play, their own mode for communication and expression, it is impossible for children to do so with the limitations of structured play. We hold an image of the child at MICCC, that all children are capable and competent individuals born with rights and respected as decision makers. As educators we are not here to give knowledge and encourage children to memorise flash cards, instead we are here to share our knowledge and be co-researchers with our children as they follow their own interests and investigate their own inquiries

Piaget’s developmental stages are in the back of educator minds as children are developing schemas, learning to coordinate their senses and mental processes through trial and error. Having a secure relationship with children and partnerships with families means we can better support adaptation in play as we can challenge each child’s existing understanding with experiences and interactions that help them re-order their knowledge.

Our centre beliefs align with some Walker principles too as we see children as individuals, not machines that learn the exact same thing at the same time in the exact same way. Learning needs to be meaningful and that can only happen when you have a true understanding of each child, their family and their community. Our teaching moments may go unnoticed during the intensity of play but it is intentional, relevant, real and the children are learning everyday and sharing their learning with others.

From a Steiner perspective play at MICCC is creative and directed by the children, our educators role model goodness and kindness and highlight connections in everything.

We have a real understanding of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory so therefore know that children are not ‘clean slates’, they come to use with existing knowledge and many influencing factors in their life. We respect and welcome each child and family that walks through our door and we differentiate our approach to education, care and relationships to suit the needs of each individual.

We are big advocates for children immersing their senses in nature and becoming real-life problem solvers, things that flash cards don’t align with. A laminated picture card that shows you the answer will never compare to a child holding and feeling natural objects as they problem solve to find their own answers and explore their own identity.

A person’s own beliefs, culture, values and personal experiences will influence how they feel about unstructured play. Take a moment to sit and watch your children at play, don’t focus on the products, outcomes or achievements and don’t provide everything for them, instead let them create their play, take note of their thinking processes and the way they are learning to interact with others. You will be amazed. There is no wrong or right way to educate children as every child and their families are different, however it is important that children can be children and be themselves.

OLLIE LAUDER - MICCC EDUCATIONAL LEADER

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