Play matters! In fact, there has never been a more prolific time than now for research into the importance of play. In this blog post, Kim Moroney Education Officer of Early Learning at the Catholic Schools Office in Newcastle advocates for the importance of play for every child.

Play is valued as essential to best teaching and learning practice as well as crucial to the engagement, growth, development and wellbeing of the child. This understanding of the value and benefits of play means that now is the opportune time to explore the possibilities of play!

When considering the possibilities of play in an educational context I consider play in two distinct ways. The first is play as a pedagogy and the second is self-determined play.

Play as a pedagogy is where curriculum is accessed via play to achieve particular outcomes and curriculum content. Through play the needs, capabilities and talents of the student can be observed, assessed and addressed.  In play children explore what is new, refine and extend what they know, respond to uncertainty and engage in problem solving.

The first step adults need to take is to step back and observe children in play and not interfere. So may discoveries about the child will happen in these moments. After observation, play presents opportunities to extend learning through conversation, reflection and action. Imaginative and socio dramatic, constructive and investigative, exploratory and sensory play are a part of a rich curriculum.

Young girl playing with animal toys
Pretend play

In my role as Education Officer Early Learning, I work with teachers to ensure play as a pedagogy exists in all its rich possibilities. We identify outcomes and content from a particular Key Learning Area (KLA) and develop play opportunities to achieve curriculum requirements. We set up “invitation to play” spaces which act as provocations for the child to play. Play cannot be separated from an intentional and meaningful environment. We carefully consider the environment, accessible and flexible resources and open-ended inquiry questions. Invitations to play provide possibilities for observation as well as a collection of evidence to show children’s progress towards learning outcomes.

Self-determined play is a right of the child to have time and opportunity to direct their own play. In a school setting, self-determined play is accessible to the child during recess and lunch breaks. This places significant relevance on the environment to be engaging, providing accessibility for different constructs of play.

As well as the decline of play as a pedagogy, opportunities for children to engage in self-determined play have declined. Children are often overscheduled and powerless in how they spend their time.

Children need time to have unscheduled and unplanned opportunities to immerse themselves in self-determined play.

Children can build relationships, learn to resolve conflicts, negotiate and regulate their behaviours. In self-determined play, children have increased feelings of success and optimism as they act as their own agents and make their own choices. It presents possibilities for the child to explore, negotiate, take risks and create meaning. It is often a time of physically active play which allows children to test and develop all types of motor skills. Self-determined play promotes significant health and wellbeing benefits.

Young girl playing with a blue and pink puppet

As adults we need to advocate for the importance of play for every child. Play brings joy and it is within this context that learning and wellbeing occurs.

A little bit about Kim.

Kim’s qualifications include a Masters of Educational Studies, Bachelor of Education in Early Childhood, Diploma in Religious Education, and Diploma in Teaching. With teaching and leadership experiences in both prior to school and school settings, Kim’s study in Reggio Emilia, Italy has influenced her image of the child as learner, researcher and citizen. Kim is the Brother John Taylor Fellow 2017 with study experiences in Finland, Sweden, Anji County, China and the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development & learning (PEDAL) at the University of Cambridge.

Kim is currently Education Officer Early Learning at the Catholic Schools Office in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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