During the weekend I visited my son and his family. They were out but their 3 puppies were romping on the back lawn. I sat on the deck and watched them with delight as they played together and thought about the learning that was happening for them. Sometimes all three would wrestle together, then one would detach and hide behind the tree and watch and when he thought it was the right time, would bound out with obvious glee and join in. Watching, smelling the ground, times for action and time for quiet and thinking and able to explore the environment is valuable learning for these puppies. I come from a farming background and have witnessed this learning with many young animals, through play and fun. My own childhood was filled with fun and play with my siblings and I have grown up with memories of making huts in the native bush, playing ‘birds’in the long grass, dressing puppies in baby clothes to take them for rides in the pram and feelings of peace and serenity in a natural play setting for children and having parents who realised the value of this play for us.
I reflected on how this puppy play is how our young children learn but sometimes we lose sight of this in our busy world where so much emphasis is on academic achievement. Are we losing sight of these precious years where the importance of learning is through play, to wonder, to be curious and to find out about our friends and develop social competence through being able to make mistakes and try again.
Through play and exploration, these young children will develop dispositions to help them deal with an uncertain world as they grow older.
Margaret Carr and Guy Claxton remind us that dispositions to learn are verbs i.e. contributing,exploring, collaborating, persisting,questioning etc, we do not acquire dispositions. We become more or less disposed to learning in certain ways - or not!
Are teachers through lack of knowledge, but believing they are doing the right thing by insisting on group times or kindy sessions (interestingly, I have never seen a kindy session in kindergartens!) limiting the learning of these children by denying them play over a long period. Surely short play times are just filling in time, good for teachers maybe but of little value for children.
As we nurture the disposition of ‘loving to learn’ through play, we need to feel confident that we are doing the right thing for these young children and strive for an environment where provocations widen and deepen learning and teachers are engaged in their own ongoing learning so that skills, knowledge and dispositions are strengthened for everyone in the learning community and literacy and mathematical skills sit alongside effort, teamwork, friendship, courage and curiosity to make assessment so much more meaningful and brings TeWhāriki to life in ways that show our children as capable and confident.
This learning environment needs effort to make it an environment where ‘deep listening’ is part of the pedagogy. Langsted (1994) argues that structures and procedures are important but;.... more important is the cultural climate which shapes the ideas that the adults in a particular society hold about children. The wish to listen to and involve children originates in this cultural climate. This wish will then lead to structures and procedures that can guarantee the involvement of the children. (pp41-2)
Children’s play reflects their social and cultural context and we need to understand the importance of the social and cultural context in which children live and avoid making generalisations that assume that some forms of play are typical or essential. I thought about this as I watched some boys playing ‘pig hunting’ at their centre after an excursion where they went pig hunting through native bush, carrying their toy guns and knives. This is what their whanau do each weekend and their play reflected an in depth knowledge of catching pigs with dogs, the singeing and preparing the meat for hangi, meaningful learning for these young children within the contexts of their family life. This play is upholding the mana of these boys, they are supported, respected and given choices so that their potential can be reached, an example of whakamana or empowerment.
Play has many different theories and there is so much that can be written about it.
Maybe we should leave the definition of play from those involved - the players; see ‘Play is having fun’ and ‘it has to be work if you tell us to do something’.