Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Value of Unstructured Play

“Nature teaches us how the world works.
Imagination teaches us how to dream.
Play teaches us how to make our dreams real.”
- Imagine Childhood: Exploring the World Through Nature, Imagination, and Play by Sarah Olmsted

When my children were small, they loved nothing more than the opportunity to pursue their interests without any expectations from me, of achievement, skill development or 'learning'. They loved to explore outside, to make huts, to play with water and sand, model play dough, read as much or as little as they liked, play with Lego and do all of the other101 things that they enjoyed without close adult intervention or attention. Of course, I kept my eye on them to ensure that they were safe, but apart from that, I let them go about the important business of being a child. Sometimes, I would join in, sit at the table with them and watch them build a castle or a tower. It was a great way just to talk with them on their level and to hear about what was happening 'inside their head' as they learned. I loved hearing the stories they created while playing.

Of course, they were learning, developing their skills and developing an understanding of the world around them. They were creating meaning from their interactions completed at their own pace and pleasure. I think this quote sums it up well:

” … by allowing rather than controlling, we give children a sense of freedom and autonomy. Their play is open-ended, the choices and decisions are theirs to make, and the discovery process includes self-discovery. Quite simply: children's play flourishes when we “let it” rather than “make it” happen.” - Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne, M.Ed. (pg. 77)

By allowing our children the opportunity to play, we give them the opportunity for their creativity and imagination to grow and flourish. Play becomes a catalyst for learning through doing and quite simply, makes us happy! It is valuable for children right through their primary schooling, not just our little ones.

So what do I mean by unstructured play? By this I mean allowing children to choose what they want to play with, for how long and how they do it without any agenda. The only instruction we may give is 'go and play'. Of course, if this is a new idea, they may need some ideas- playdough, building blocks, puzzles, books, water play, all of which can be set up easily, even in the restricted space of our Hong Kong homes. At Bradbury, we do have what we call a 'play based approach', but this is different from the unstructured play that I am writing about as it is structured and has a learning agenda behind it. For example, if we have the specific objective of teaching our students about capacity, we will set up a water bath and fill it with containers of different sizes so that the students can tip, pour and measure to their heart's content and learn about this concept. By doing this, we not only make learning fun, we connect  physical activity with  intellectual understanding, something that ensures powerful learning.

With the long Summer break ahead of us, you may be wondering how best to keep your child occupied! Can I make a plea that you allow some time for simply playing and try not to fill your child's day with activity after activity that you have scheduled for them?

This is my last blog for the academic year. Over Summer, I will be heading off to NZ to meet a new grandson and also to spend time with my two year old grandson. How will we spend time together? Making and playing with playdough, reading, playing with trains (his obsession) walking, collecting driftwood off the beach... unstructured play together will be a wonderful way to spend quality time with him!

I've included some photos of Year 1 in a structured play session this morning. This play was supporting the current UoI, which is looking at stories.
Happy Summer to you all, see you next year!