Early Year Education in UK: Play Pedagogy
Play pedagogy has gained increased popularity as a preferred method of learning in early years, based on children’s natural attraction to play (Shanahan & Lonigan, 2013). Play pedagogy according to Rogers (2011) has historically been dominant in Western-European pedagogy and educationists, theorists and philosophers have sought to establish the importance of play in childhood learning and development.
More recently, policy makers are applying research on traditional and contemporary theories on play to develop curriculums, policies and rules aimed at improving education outcomes among children (Rogers, 2011; Platz & Arellano, 2011). The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), which provides learning, care and development standards for children under 5 years provides that learning in early years should mostly be through games and play.
First introduced in 2008, EYFS as a statutory curriculum sought to address different demands from stakeholders in relation to children’s learning and development (Silberfeld & Horsley, 2013). The importance of physical development is emphasized in a bid to enhance learning and the use of play and games is emphasized to promote learning in communications and language, personal, emotional and social development, literacy, expressive art and design, understanding the world and mathematics (Department of Education, 2017).
According to Foundation Years (2009), learning through play is guaranteed to enhance knowledge assimilation among children and that designing a range of strategies aligned with the needs of the children can greatly enhance their ability to learn. Foundation Years (2009) notes that children are not passive and that they enjoy involvement in ‘brains-on’ and ‘hands-on’ activities, and have a significant role in driving their own development through individual interests, knowledge seeking, asking questions and quest to perform competently.
The EYFS framework enables this by providing guidelines for schools and teachers to promote early learning. The application of play pedagogy in England is undeniable and has improved significantly over the years. Silberfeld & Horsley (2013) note that play is predominant in early education in England and that this plays an imperative role in promoting learning among children in the early ages.
Much of the motivation to integrate play into learning is from the EYFS statutory curriculum that aims at supporting the development of children, which is targeted at school leaders, staff, childcare providers and childminders. EYFS guidelines are mandatory and are based on four themes namely, ‘a unique child, positive relationships, enabling environment and learning and development’ (Foundation Years, 2009, p. 2). In relation to play pedagogy, the themes enabling environments and learning and development are more related to play and learning activities.
Enabling environment require that schools, teachers and caregivers offer stimulating resources that enable children learn in the context of their culture and community, rich opportunities for learning through playful teaching and support for children to explore and take risks (Department of Education, 2017). This generally includes significant play activities as a means of learning.
The learning and development themes provides that children are different and will learn in different ways, hence the need for a framework that ensures the best outcome for all children including consideration for special needs and disabilities. This theme calls for playing and exploration, critical thinking and active learning, which essentially spells out the importance of play in pedagogy.
Literacy introduction in the modern learning world is not only confined to books but also to playful interaction with pictures, talking, telling and listening to stories, singing nursery rhymes and imitation among other activities that create a foundation for reading and writing skills development (Platz & Arellano, 2011). In England, it is common practice for nursery schools, kindergartens, daycares and government schools to teach using these skills and play can actually be established as the main approach to learning in Europe (Butler, 2016).
Silberfeld & Horsley (2013) note that learning is sustained through encouraging lived experiences, hence the importance of play in Europe’s early education. This includes helping children to play by utilizing structured games and open-ended activities, pretending and being imaginative, role acting, and playful activities such as homour, singing, riddles, chanting, clapping, mimicry and using available materials and resources imaginatively. Butler (2016) notes that play and play creativity could be the secret to Britain’s top-notch education system, exemplified by the commitment of teachers to provide vital skills for learning through play as opposed to classwork.
This is achieved through teacher-directed play as well as free play, which enables imagination and creativity. Children are then evaluated based on observation and not through testing and new approaches designed to ensure that their skills are continually upgraded (Rogers, 2011). According to Shanahan & Lonigan, 2013), adults must be both thoughtful and skillful in helping children learn and play and exploration play a vital role in enhancing learning.
Early language and communication skills are considered an imperative phase in early literacy and is thus given significant attention. Providing such skills to children however requires innovative approaches to get the attention of children, hence the importance of play (Brown, 2014). By creating the statutory framework EYFS, the United Kingdom ensured that play can be effectively applied in early literacy.
Brown, C.S., (2014). Language and Literacy Development in the Early Years: Foundational Skills that Support Emergent Readers. Language and Literacy Development in the Early Years, 24, 35-49.
Butler, P., (2016). No grammar schools, lots of play: the secrets of Europe’s top education system. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/20/grammar-schools-play-europe-top-education-system-finland-daycare
Foundation Years (2009) Learning, Playing and Interacting Good practice in the Early Years Foundation Stage. Retrieved from https://www.foundationyears.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Learning_Playing_Interacting.pdf
Platz, D., & Arellano, J., (2011) Time tested early childhood theories and practices. Education, 132: 54–63.
Rogers, S., (Ed.). (2011) Rethinking play and pedagogy in early childhood education: concepts, contexts and cultures. Albingdon, England; New York: Routledge.
Shanahan, T., & Lonigan, C.J., (Eds.). (2013). Literacy in preschool and kindergarten children: The National Early Literacy Panel and beyond. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing
Thomas, L., Warren, E., & de Vries, E. (2011). Play-based learning and intentional teaching in early childhood contexts. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 36(4), 69–75
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