The amalgamation of play theories and ideas has highlighted how crucial play is as a tool for children to learn; it is an essential aspect of cognitive development (Gray and Macblain, 2012) and therefore could arguably be used as a pedagogical tool throughout school, not just in the early years.
Play seems to be a critical part of childhood and without specific types of play, children will not develop appropriately (Piaget, 1951). Jones (2009) has explained several circumstances throughout childhood and into adulthood that can be supported and resolved through play. This suggests that if children can play through their ‘problems’, they could be resolved and potentially prevent further difficulties later in life.
Early years curricula have recently been more agreeable to these notions of play and have supported play pedagogy in early years’ settings. There is also growing research for outdoor learning and explorative play to suggest that play supports their academic development in later school life, as seen with international curricula including the Danish Forest School. Teachers have the opportunity to allow children to follow their interests and learn at their own individual age levels (DfE, 2014). However, this does not eliminate curriculum pressures when the children start in the reception class of a school (Adams, et al., 2004). There is a large onus on teachers and early years’ practitioners to avoid the downward pressure of conforming to the practice of the rest of the school. Without specific early years training, there is often a mistrust of play in educational settings which comes from lack of a ‘precise operational definition’ of play and the persistent view that ‘play is the opposite to work’ (Wood, 2013).
There is significant research including the EPPE and REPEY projects, that has informed teachers and practitioners’ understanding about the relationship between play and learning. This has encouraged ‘play pedagogy’ in the curriculum (Wood, 2013) which has been used beneficially to enhance the EYFS. It is essential that research is used alongside theory in practice with everyday observations and reflections of working with children (Nutbrown and Clough, 2013). Practitioners need to develop their own individual knowledge about play, taking into account the social and cultural backgrounds of the children in their setting or their class (Bennett, Wood and Rogers, 1997). It should be recognised here, that this personal view should be constantly reflected on to inform practice, as it will differ from child to child and class to class (Paige-Smith and Craft, 2008).
Although research has evidenced the relationship between play and learning, there is relatively little research to inform practitioners of how children’s play progresses as they get older and how the school curriculum can support progression; there is no single definition, and no single theory, which can explain the role of play in children’s learning and development (Wood, 2013:42). Although there has been influential research to describe how children learn through play, the relationship between play and learning has not been finalised, or truly accepted.
In conclusion, many academics and professionals have zealously provided evidence of the importance of using play pedagogy in the curriculum which has been used to enhance both the English and international curricula (Brooker, 2011). The English curriculum has made prodigious developments, embracing international ideas, encouraging outdoor and physical play and appreciating how children play. Although the EYFS have made these advancements, the pressure of ‘datafication’ in the early years (Roberts-Holmes, 2014) is undeniably providing a barrier to play based learning which could be seen as preventing early years’ pedagogues from being able to fully appreciate the curriculum.
Helen Gray – Institute of Education – Masters Module (2015)