Thank you to Jack, Education Advisor at Tapestry for contributing his thoughts on the importance of play across the primary phase (and onwards!). Tapestry share one of our key principles that play has a vital role across the curriculum and in the home. Through our work, we see how the everyday, playful interactions between parent and child have such an impact on a child’s progress, development, and their love of learning. It is these interactions that we can all strive to encourage in our work with schools and families.
When we think of “play” in schools we often think of Early Years. That is where most of the research is focused. That’s where the most time is dedicated solely to it. That’s where it is backed up by policy and guidance.
The importance of play cannot be understated for those formative years. But children don’t stop playing when they get to Year 1 and no matter how old they get it never stops being beneficial.
With all the talk of “catch up” and “lost learning” due to the pandemic, debates are focusing on how best to spend the money and what should be prioritised. Summer schools, longer school days, assessments to analyse gaps etc.
I think we should all be playing a bit more.
I’m a firm believer in many children’s innate resilience and their surprising ability to “bounce back”. But in order to bounce, they first need to jump… and roll and run and dance and act and play.
So how can we harness the power of play to help our key stage children at school and at home?
We know the way children play develops and changes as they get older. Play in the early years is very imaginative and explorative – it’s the main vehicle young children use to start understanding the world they live in.
As children get older, the play may become more structured. The peer relationships they have been developing become very prevalent. They may start enjoying games that have rules and conventions. And as they continue to develop, technology may start to play a larger role in their play as well.
Knowing these broad milestones might help when thinking about how you can harness the power of play. They may also help you to share with parents and carers what play looks like in an older child.
You know your students best. And families know their children. Thinking about what children are interested in, and building play around those interests, will always be effective. This can be important information for families – it might give them a place to start from when playing with their child. While we are on the topic of “interest”; Personally, I have found older children can become enamored by what you, the adult, find interesting. Especially in the realm of play. This is true of all the significant adults in a child’s life – the staff at school and the grown-ups at home. A special adult sharing their own playfulness, and time, with a child is a wonderful thing.
I once disclosed to my year 4 class that I played Dungeon and Dragons every weekend with a group of my friends. Unsurprisingly, this led to a lengthy and detailed conversation about that topic, where I spoke passionately about a game I loved. The class were captivated. They listened attentively and asked (what felt like) hundreds of questions. This entire ordeal ended with us creating our own game (a sort of hybrid Top Trumps / DnD card and dice game) which we would play together. This game wasn’t just fun to play, I made sure it had a (formal) learning element; it proved a very popular way to practice the 4 operations. But even if it didn’t do that, my class were still learning. They were discussing strategy, problem solving, trying to think ahead of one another, analysing each other’s successes and mistakes.
I tell you this story as an example of how important a role the adult has here. Older children love to see the playful side of adults. Talk about your favourite games with them. Teach them games you played as a child. Come up with new games together.
Also, as with all aspects of teaching and learning, it is important that children feel seen and represented in their play opportunities, and that they hear diverse voices. Think about other adults you and the children can connect with who can bring different perspectives to your classroom playfulness.
As a Key Stage teacher, it’s too easy to get hung up on “what curriculum objectives am I hitting?” and that is important – but the curriculum isn’t playful. Not on its own. It needs you and the adults at home for that.
Finally, I find it helpful to remember: not all learning is playing, but all playing is learning!