Dumbfounded by the trite and appalling approach, I did not keep a link to an article I read last week where some American schools were taking away the toys in primary classrooms until test scores improved. Are we in the buiseness of ‘measuring’ or ‘learning‘?

Last week I went to a Professional Development session on “Multiple Perspctives on Early Child Development”. It was a panel discussion that looked at some of the things we are doing with early childhood education. Here is my second page of notes, written on a paper tablecloth:

When looking at early child development:

Curriculum is Everything that happens

Play is HOW the learning happens

Play is a means to capitalize on learning

All animals learn through play

-they test limits and abilities

-play helps with peer socialization

Play & Imagination develop a Sense of Narrative

-narrative is essential for the shift from

Learning to Read -to- Reading to Learn

Play promotes both problem solving and collaboration

Play is chlid directed activity, child directed learning

Problem-Based Play Challenges and Engages

Play needs to be developmentally appropriate, but it should not end with primary/early education. There is a reason why the video game industry makes billions of dollars on games for teens and adults.

At what age does there seem to be a shift from Learning from Play to Learning or Playing? At what age do we start preparing kids for ‘the next grade’ or ‘the next test’?

We need to think more about the pedagogy of play and less about curriculum content… but the question arises: How do we measure this? Or better yet, how do we stop our measurement-based-evaluations from squeezing the fun out of learning?

I asked this question to the ministry representative on the panel: With our focus on standardidized testing how do we encourage more play? She didn’t answer my question. She said that play will improve test scores. I wouldn’t have asked the question if I didn’t already get that point.

So how do we promote learning through play more effectively in our schools?

Can quantitative tests meaningfully measure qualitative attributes and skills?

What is it we really want to measure?

Do we need a new narrative about what schools are about?

6 comments on “The Pedagogy of Play

  1. Kia ora David

    Having fun is a natural companion to learning. I don’t believe that there is any real transistion for this as people grow older. It all depends on what is deemed to be fun.

    As for the American schools that remove the toys until test scores improve, it reminds me of the one liner:


    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  2. Hi David ,
    Ok so reading the above really got me annoyed. I taught Reception, that is children aged 4 to 5 for several years . Throughout that time I taught using the early learning goals, which is a play based curriculum…and I believe in it 100 percent.

    I think we can discover many truths about an educational establishment by examining what it is they assess…because when we assess we put a value on something.

    In my setting we value the “whole child” and believe that learning is a social, situated and metagonitive process. Consequently the younger the learner the more important it is to build schemas through play on new information.

    The thing that has become apparrent to me over the years, is how assessment totally affects “what” and “how” sonmething is learnt. This is because the majority of assessment, certainly in England, is concerned with validity rather than actual deep learning. I have compromised my own beliefs at times, so the school I was working at could achieve better results in “high stakes” tests

    The corner I now fight in terms of assessment is this, tests can measure standards in education however, they cannot ipso facto raise standards. Consequently teachers must begin to teach the way pupils learn and there is more than ample research on the long term value of learning through play for ALL learners to warrant no school abadoning it for short term gains in tests.

    Dam you got me on my soap box!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. I read an article in “Education Week” last week about this same topic. And then I was at the bookstore last night and came across “The Red Rubber Ball at Work” by Kevin Carroll, which discusses how we need to bring play into the workplace. I didn’t buy it, but flipped through to get some main ideas.

    Basically, Americans are being encouraged to take play out of classrooms in order to promote “learning” and bring it into offices to promote “creativity.” Sounds backwards to me…why not bring it into both places for the same reasons! If play helps adults be creative in problem solving, won’t it help children develop those same skills?

  4. Everything I needed to know I learnt in Kindergarten. As a ex-kindergarten teacher who then spent much of my teaching career in the higher elementary grades I can empathize with the frustration that a number of the commenters have expressed. This often makes me feel like I am in a futilitarian state.

    The painful reality is that universities that require a filtering process for entrance to their institutions forces a high school system to push an “objective” evaluation of students, which in turn pushes middle school teachers to “prepare” their students for high school which trickles down to elementary teachers teaching to a paint by number curriculum that is so prescriptive that it take the art of our teaching.

    And yet, despite the system, we find a way. As students grow older, play gets defined in a slightly different way. Students are playing when they are intrinsically engaged in a novel experience in which interactions are spontaneous. Teachers who create classroom playgrounds allow access points to curriculum for every student. These classrooms are truly differentiated.

    I found my last year as a teacher, before moving on to admin, to be the most rewarding year of my teaching career. I felt free to experiment with my pedagogy and I felt so secure in my abilities to teach. I didn’t “mark” almost anything. I worked doggedly at setting up authentic feedback loops with my students where I used as much descriptive feedback as time would allow. My curriculum was almost entirely play based with my gr. 6/7 students having centers time for a large chunk of the day. Students problem solved, collaborated, socialized, and peer educated. In other words they played. I got into their space and learned along side them. In other words, I got to play. Now as an administrator, I get to have the ultimate teaching experience because every time I enter a classroom to “teach”, I always get to play. The burden of assessment OF learning is removed.

    Thank you for the post Dave, through technology, play and a paradigm of learning for the sake of learning our children will actually stand a chance of playing through life.

    “Almost all creativity requires purposeful play” ~ Abraham Maslow

  5. Hi Dave,

    Doing and playing is still the best way to impart “knowledge” of any kind! Hence my interest in Outdoor education – The one and only classroom which is fully “Hans-On!”

    Please check out my new blog as I would appreciate some feedback!

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