But yes to learning through play

There is a difference you know? Ask yourself this: how can adult-led, planned activities possibly be play? Play is supposed to be spontaneous. Play is when a child chooses to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. Play has been hijacked and I know who’s hijacked it – school Teachers. When the much beloved, non-statutory, gone -but-not-forgotten birth to three matters framework was ‘blended’ with the statutory foundation stage curriculum the statutory EYFS framework was born and became the education system’s baby – so to speak. Teachers dreaded implementing the EYFS right from day one because they recognised how unfamiliar the pedagogy was to them and, even worse, it was beginning to look like they were expected to play with young children. I could just see them rolling their eyes and lamenting “I didn’t do my PGCE for this!” Teachers who just. couldn’t. handle. the fact that young children learn differently. So what have they done? They’ve ‘schoolified’ the early years. I’ve heard this (or something very similar) many a times in many a training room:

Key stage Teacher to Early Years Teacher: “it’s not real teaching in foundation. It’s just playing. Well, supervising play anyway”.

Teacher to Childminder: “Oh, so even you have to follow the EYFS too?”

That was the real crunch for them I think. Mere ‘babysitters’ actually having to implement an actual educational framework with actual children. But through organisations such as PACEY, we’ve slowly gained ourselves a professional reputation and even begun to form really good relationships with day care staff, which I never saw coming if I’m honest but is a very welcome turn of events for sure. But now we’ve got poor Early Years Teachers thoroughly miserable because now they’re feeling unappreciated and undervalued. They’re being made to feel like glorified babysitters now and, understandably, they’re not liking it one little bit. I guess they’re kinda feeling how we’ve been feeling these past 8 years or so. And when it’s a school’s policy to move Teachers around year to year so they get to experience the whole breadth of education for 2 – 11 year olds you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard Teachers groaning “Oh God, it’s my time to do nursery/reception”. I’ve even heard some expressing their fear that moving into nursery would be an end to their teaching career. In fact, I think that all Teachers should have a spell of working with young children – to rediscover what it feels like to have fun – to always have that curiosity about the world, that sense of gay abandon and freedom to just be – to actually be excited about learning. Having said that, they’d have to stop being expected to prepare kids for tests first. I’m 100% certain that’s not why they went into teaching

And the times I’ve seen the carousel system used as a way of “getting the whole EYFS in” in a reception class could make a grown man with extraordinary powers cry. Twenty whole minutes to perform forward planned tasks, stop when a bell is rung, move to the next table, countdown begins again. How is this play? How does this follow children’s current interests? How can children get really stuck in and become deeply engaged? On one occasion – in an outstanding school I might add – I saw 4 children in the creative area huddled around a CD player which was playing nursery rhymes. Not one of them danced. Not one of them sung. Not one of them draped a length of fabric around their shoulders to pretend to be a superhero. There were pictures of Spiderman and Superman stuck up in the area so I was guessing “superheroes” was the theme that week, or month, or half term – the same as they did this time last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. And I’m guessing the kids were supposed to be inspired to be superheroes – even though this “creative area” this was in a tiny corner of a classroom with no space to run, or jump or climb and where kids couldn’t be loud because they were right next to the table where children were tracing over dotted letters. There were no pictures of Wonder Woman or Kamala Khan  nor Miles Morales or Black Panther and certainly no Xavier or Oracle so definitely not ticking the diversity box. And, in hindsight, perhaps they really ought to have had a superhero movies theme tune CD instead of nursery rhymes doncha think? [Sigh] Poor kids, what a dull area to try to be imaginative in.

Surprisingly though, it’s not just me who has an issue with play-based learning, in fact, it doesn’t even look like I was the first person to put the cat among the pigeons. Shucks, and there was me thinking I was becoming the Katie Hopkins of early years…