As schools across England start to look to the future following the easing of lockdown, and schools re-opening, mental health experts have warned of the impact of coronavirus on children and have called for schools to prioritise play and socialising when they do re-open, over formal lessons and academic progress.
Pam Mundy, ACS International Schools board trustee and Early Childhood education specialist, advocates the value of play in early years and primary years education, and, while children are still learning at home, has shared her advice for how parents can leverage the power of play activities to drive development and learning outcomes.
“For schools and parents committed to a holistic approach to learning, there are curricula that provide comprehensive frameworks to guide development and learning outcomes for children. These frameworks are not based on outdated methods of simple knowledge transfer, but instead focus on inquiry-based, exploratory learning that develops at the pace appropriate for each individual child. ACS International Schools are committed to delivering stage-appropriate, inquiry-based learning, particularly for our youngest students.
"Parents should feel confident that they can facilitate this inquiry-based approach to learning at home, and play is a very powerful tool at their disposal to support this. Learning through play is a key aspect of inquiry-based learning; play is meaningful – children play to make sense of the world around them and to find meaning in an experience by connecting it to something already known, and co-constructing it with adults."
"Learning through play is a key aspect of inquiry-based learning"
- PAM MUNDY
Some strategies for how parents can put this approach to learning into practice, both now while at home, and when schools return, include:
- Talk to children about play: Parents should feel encouraged to talk to their children about their play, indicating that what they are doing has value and is helping to extend their current knowledge and make new connections between activities. By modelling behaviours that support the child in continuing their play, such as resilience, problem solving and taking turns, parents are providing source material from which their children can learn and are strengthening the foundations of such learning for the eventual return to a level of normality.
- Encourage children to ask their own questions: Even in the current ‘learning at home’ context, teachers and parents can encourage each child to ask their own questions and develop their own areas of exploration. In this way, children are encouraged to acquire knowledge, new skills and explore the world around them at their own pace, building an understanding of themselves as a learner and as an active participant in their own learning, rather than a passive recipient of information.
- Prompt children to answer questions too: Using questions to stimulate different skills and areas of exploration during play is also key in providing learning structure to play-time. For example, parents can experiment with thinking skills by asking prompting questions like “I wonder what would happen if you …?” and “What do you think made this happen?”. Self-management skills can be engaged with questions such as “What might be another way to solve this problem?”. And, while open-ended questions are great to encourage discussion during play-based learning, there is also the opportunity for closed questions such as “How many pieces of paper did you use?” or “Which story took longer for us to share - this one or that?” to encourage key skills in maths and English.
"By nurturing holistic, inquiry-based learning opportunities, parents are facilitating the best learning support for their children during this challenging time. Educators don’t expect parents to become teachers, or to develop a sense of guilt if their time to support learning is limited. Children will accumulate such a wealth of learning by exploring their world at home and having valuable time to ‘be’ with their families.
"Teamwork, amongst the teachers, amongst the students and now more than ever across the whole learning community, including parents, is a central tenet of our approach at ACS. Now, as they navigate this difficult time, we are asking parents, as part of the team, to work with their children in creating space for different types of learning and to not be overly critical of themselves and how they are managing the challenges of the current situation. The resilience, kindness, patience and empathy parents are displaying everyday within their families will form a key learning point for every child on the other side of this crisis, and for that alone parents should be empowered in their ability to facilitate learning.
“Soon, we will re-start something more like our ‘normal’ lives. In the meantime, learning continues, and we are all gaining new wisdom from the precious and extended time of children learning at home. We are confident that teachers will build on children’s learning at home experiences and weave them as golden threads in the rich tapestry of childhood, created together as a firm foundation for their life and learning ahead.”