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Children’s perspectives on play
Children’s perspectives on play

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3.1 Home education and learning

As Michael states in his account, some parents lean more towards a school-based formal home curriculum and some, like him and others he links with, approach it in more informal ways. So, the extent to which play as a way of learning might feature in home education varies considerably across families. Michael comments: ‘…I lean towards a holistic approach to learning’. Broadly speaking a holistic approach involves acknowledging that children do not compartmentalize their play experiences (Duffy, 2010). The informal curriculum Megan and William experience is situated in their home and community and based directly on their interests and concerns. If parents are prepared to listen to their children while carrying out home education, children will, of their own accord, introduce play into their home learning. Of course, the same conclusion can be drawn for practitioners in early years settings.

First-person narratives

A way of appreciating how playing might seem from a child’s perspective is to write what Paige-Smith and Rix (2011) term a ‘first-person narrative’. This involves carefully observing a child at play, imaging you are thinking like the observed child, and then constructing short sentences that reflect what they are doing. The grandfather of Megan and William wrote this short example below during a day when his wife and he looked after both children.

Sea-life fuzzy felt

I (Megan) get the fuzzy felt box off the shelf. I open the box. I put the board on the floor. I bend over the board. I put a starfish from the tray on the board. I put two fish next to each other. I pat down the fish to stick to the board. I put eyes on the starfish. I add another fish to the two on the board. I say to Granny ‘They’re having a party’. I get up from the floor and climb on the settee.

Writing a first-person narrative is a method of carefully observing children and recording what they do when they are playing. The observation (and the construction of a short text about what is observed) takes place over a relatively short time – perhaps 5 minutes at the most. It can provide insights into the fine details of children’s play and, therefore, help adults to better appreciate what is involved when children are playing. Those who have tried this method invariably report that they are surprised at how much is happening over a few minutes – in terms of children’s actions and interactions when a child is engaged in play. Of course, the text created is an adult-constructed text which does not truly reflect what a child might write were they able to write about what they are doing. This observational technique, arising from research on young children (Paige-Smith and Rix, 2011), could be of use in early years settings. You may like to try it out in your home or your professional setting.

Key points

  • There is a sense in which every new parent learns afresh about play through observing and interacting with their own child.
  • Being a parent enables an intimate personal revisiting of play in collaboration with one’s own child – an adult’s license to play (once again) as though a child.
  • A holistic approach to learning involves acknowledging that children do not compartmentalise their play experiences into subjects.
  • If children take some control over their own learning, they are very likely to introduce play.