To plan or not to plan... play-based learning
I am a huge believer in the power of play. I think it is one of the strongest languages children have to communicate with and make sense of the world around them... it is of course not the only language available to them to explore and interact with the world. Being inspired by Malaguzzi brings with it the reflections of a hundred languages... the many ways to learn, play, listen, interact and engage... For me play-based learning is not a hands-off approach. It is hands on... or minds on... or ears on... there is always something switched on and engaging with the processes of the children in my care... Being a parent and being an early childhood educator are very different roles... but the also inspire each other. I am also very inspired with playwork. And rather envious of playworkers that can take that step back and be custodians of play, and the time and space children have for play whilst under their watchful eye... even here it is not hands off... it may be several steps back... but they are there IF needed.
As an educator I see that my role is not just as custodian of play, but also as facilitator of learning.
Play-based learning is not, for me, simply about letting the children play and me observing... it is so much more work than that...
I think play-based learning be very planned, and very deliberate... but planning happens in a very different way than traditional lesson planning. Outcomes are not always known, and there is an openness to allow the children to guide the direction. But a deep knowledge of children, childhood, the individuals you care for mean that you do not simply stride out into the unknown... you have a map that you have plotted with various routes, various destinations, that allows you to navigate... but essential for an educator is to do some of the mapping together with the children too... so for me play-based is planned planning what materials to provide,
planning how those materials are presented (as this impacts the children) planning what questions I ask, or what stories I read so that they help the children evolve their own play... planning what experiments and inquiries I can stimulate the children with - considering how much that will impact the children's own play and learning... and what their play is currently so that I know what sort of stimulus I should be adding to their day... reflecting and planning routines so that they do no interfere with the children's own routines/needs/play/interests/ - just because we have done something in a particular way does not mean we should always do it like that... there needs to be flexibility Planning what excursions we can go on that will enhance their play planning things to ensure that the children are supported as a group and individuals... that I am meeting their needs and making sure each child is included, the atmosphere is open and respectful, that children feel they can participate... and that all children can play... sadly I meet more and more children that struggle in their social play these days.
My days are a mix of planned and open... and with both these areas flexible to change. I design my space so that the children can have agency, I support relationships so that the children can take care of each other, and do not just have to rely on adults to be a source of care and justice. I find that I need not only to be a role-model for all of this, but also provide experiences that allow them to explore and practice - so that they can be applied in their play and better understood and crafted to their own needs.
For me play-based, the Regio Emilia Approach etc, is not a follow the child approach... but a collaborate with the child approach. Play, as a mentioned is probably childhood's most important language of communication and interpretation and expression... but play alone is not the most advantageous for the development of the child... this is why I started to develop my concept of Original Learning... that lessons, experiences, activities are woven into play (see link to read other posts connected to Original Learning). The loom, where the warp is play, and there are many different threads that can be woven into it. The more dense the warp threads the better quality the fabric (thread count). Lessons can be play filled... but this does not replace the children's own play... where they have the time and space to process the facts and the experiences of the "lessons" or "activities" and form their own opinions and build their own knowledge. Imagination is important to me... and play is an amazing realm for imagination to grow... but if the think of imagination like a coastline of an island... and the island is knowledge... the more knowledge we gain the more imagination we can access - as new things open up new doors and new potentials and also allows us to see familiar things with new eyes. My days are heavily play orientated when I work with children, but I also recognise my own power... power to control, but also power to empower. I choose to collaborate with the children and share my power, my knowledge and my experiences so that they can build on that... at the same time I am aware that they carry their own experiences and knowledge that differs to mine and that I can learn from them. I guide them... and they guide me. My purpose, I feel, is to support them to evolve... and they teach me how to be a better educator, and better listener, a better comprehender of childhood, of play and of the whole world around me.
I strive to be visibly invisible. To be there when they need me, but to step back when they are testing their own theories. To allow them small failures that allow them to learn, but not big enough failures to tear down their self confidence. Risk taking.
also check out my posts about AnjiPlay... as this is an approach striving to give space for the children to play interrupted, as well as time to collaborate with the teachers and children.