Why Play?

A personal reflection of a pre-service early childhood educator about the importance of play in curriculum.

The early years of education are transforming. As pre-service early childhood educators, do we really understand the change that is happening? Are we ready for the ‘real world’? This discussion is a reflective opinion of a pre-service early childhood educator about to enter the real world, who wants to ensure that children learn through play.

Children learn and develop when they are immersed, engaged and active in a responsive learning environment. A play-based approach to learning is an essential element in the early years curriculum to build the foundations for children’s future success.

How then can pre-service early childhood educators support play-based learning in the real world?

For play to be beneficial, it needs to be effectively scaffolded, with careful reflection on organisational details such as time, resources and materials. The type of early childhood setting will determine how to manage these considerations. It is important to support long, uninterrupted episodes of time for play to develop. In order to assist and prompt play, a program needs to have a large variety of materials and resources that are open-ended and accessible to children, both indoors and outdoors. Educators also need to consider the balance between ensuring child safety and providing scope for exploration, together with the inherent implications for their programming.

As part of a rich early childhood program, it is essential to provide an environment where children are encouraged to be active agents in their own learning. When this is achieved, children become a part of the design process for the environment, making them feel empowered and giving them a sense of ownership and control. Following a process of observing, planning, implementing and evaluating in program development can lead to rich learning outcomes in many different settings. This cyclic method explores and validates the importance of play-based learning while also using a range of different approaches to teaching and learning. Incorporating children’s thinking, interests and prior knowledge into the planning cycle enables early childhood educators to provide authentic learning opportunities that are linked to relevant observations. Recognising and acknowledging the diverse ways in which children learn and the different teaching approaches that support these learning styles, helps early childhood educators to adopt teaching practices that facilitate inclusive programs in a real world context.

In order for children to learn and engage effectively, the learning environment needs to be open-ended, child-centred and culturally sensitive. As pre-service early childhood educators entering the real world, it is our enthusiasm that will ensure children learn best through play. I believe that we also need to be flexible to support children in becoming capable, competent and effective lifelong learners.

Rebecca Trimble-Roles

Fourth year pre-service teacher, Queensland University of Technology

Every Child magazine – vol. 18 no. 3, 2012.

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