Reception Class Teacher, Mrs Brash, explains the benefits of play-based learning in the Early Years Foundation Stage, followed in Cokethorpe Pre-Prep.
What is play-based learning?
The main thing that differentiates play-based learning from other types of learning is that it is child-directed and child-led. It is not something that has been asked of the child but is based on their interests and what they want to learn about. It is self-chosen, enjoyable, interesting, stimulating, unstructured, engaging, involving lots of language and conversations. This is the key focus of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and is one of the best and most effective forms of learning for children in the younger years. Guided play is another form of play-based learning where educational activities can be gently steered by an adult. This type of play allows children the freedom to explore whilst also building on key elements of the curriculum that the adult would like to develop.
How do you implement this in the classroom setting?
In Reception Class, we spend time really getting to know the children before they even start school. We invite them to visit weekly throughout the summer before they join, and visit them at home and nursery. We send home packs in the summer before the start of term to gain an idea of what makes each individual child tick. Gaining an insight into the child’s likes and dislikes enables us to tailor the opportunities available to that child based on their interests. This provides an opportunity to ensure the activities and areas of the classroom will stimulate the children, enhancing their learning opportunities through play.
Does play-based learning negate the need to follow the curriculum?
Not at all. Play-based learning, whether child-led or guided, is a way of enhancing learning opportunities which is used in conjunction with the more formal aspects of the EYFS curriculum. In Reception, as in all years, there are clear goals and targets for children to meet; learning to read and write letters, numbers and introducing scientific concepts for example. The Early Learning goals are packed with information that children need to learn and retain. A combination of child-led, guided and adult-directed teaching is at the core of what Reception Class is about. In our experience, a well-managed play-based approach leads to better outcomes for pupils because they are motivated and engaged.
How do you facilitate play-based learning in the school day?
The timetable dictates how and when we teach the various elements of Reception education. The day begins with phonics, with the length of sessions increasing from 20 minutes to 40 minutes as the children become more focused. During the day we have what we call ‘cool time’. These timetabled independent learning sessions are opportunities where the children can choose what they want to do. During this time, we can observe the children playing and play with them. We can encourage the use of language we have introduced or reinforce any taught concepts.
Why is it important?
For so many reasons. It promotes so much of what the Early Years Curriculum is about, especially the three prime areas: communication and language, personal, social and emotional development, and physical development. Children are able to focus on a self-chosen task far longer than an adult-directed task. Early years education is about the whole child.
It promotes language skills because the children have to talk to each other and are continually problem solving. It instils a confidence in them and helps to deal with conflict as they have to negotiate with each other. It develops motivation and curiosity, develops friendships and teaches empathy.
How does it inform your approach to learning?
We work hard to provide the children with a balance of play-based and adult-led learning, and also to provide the resources that support this. The Early Learning goals are in place to ensure children meet the goals required for Key Stage 1. It is important not just that we teach them what they need to know, but to understand the best way and time to teach it to make it relevant. If it is not relevant and has no purpose, then it has no place.
Is play-based learning only relevant for Reception?
No, it is a huge part of every child’s life. Our Head of Prep, Mrs Black, is a firm advocate of play-based learning. Children learn best when they are enjoying what they are doing. Obviously, as children progress through the School, learning becomes more structured but, through our creative curriculum, the principles are extended promoting continued exploration and problem-solving through relevant topics.
How does the setting and learning environment support this?
The Reception classroom has different zones, enabling children to go off during their cool time and choose what they want to do. Early Years classrooms can often appear cluttered, because they need to have a range of easily accessible resources. If they have not got them to hand, how are they supposed to play?
The newly built Reception classrooms have been designed with this in mind. There are so many areas within the space that the children have access to, such as: painting, a playdoh malleable area, construction, craft, small world, maths, an ICT area with iPads, telephones, toys and remote control cars, a writing area (messaging centre), book corner, dressing up corner, home corner, role play and an outdoor area with sandpits, water table, bikes and a workbench. We also have timetabled access to The Woods which is a shared space, and the Secret Woods which Mr Slader and volunteers from the Sixth Form created exclusively for Pre-Prep.
We also have exploration zones which is a continuous provision set up by the adult. When the children stop interacting with it, we change them. This year we started with a nature area, with plant pots with acorns, chestnuts and plants. This creates further learning opportunities for the children, who were able to sort the objects and make pictures for example.
What skills does it teach?
The skills are endless and we have highlighted many of these already; language, problem solving, motivation, curiosity, fine gross motor skills, strength, control of movement and awareness of themselves. We firmly believe that play-based learning is vital to the development of our wonderful Reception Class children.