This year we have had a ‘One word’ challenge amongst staff. One word which centers on your character and creates a vision of your future.
My word is Limit
For me this centers on, Family, School, Study and Me. I am one of those people who have experienced severe burn out. Burn Out is a very scary experience and one with consequences in many areas of life. Limit was my way of focusing myself on what counts most. That is finding the limits and living in them contentedly.
That is where my thinking remained until recently when my thoughts were directed towards the classroom.
I am inquiring into play as pedagogy for teaching Year 1 and 2 (5 and 6 year olds). It includes holistic and meaningful ways for young children to learn. At the beginning of teaching with this new focus, I had a broad goal, a direction to follow. I liken it to being on a large farm, where you can’t physically see the boundaries but you know where they. For nearly three terms, my team and I have been wondering around the farm. It is only recently that I have seen some of the boundaries. I like to think of them as limits. Bumping into the fence line felt great, as I could look back and see how far we had travelled.
One of the limits I wanted to find was the tension between allowing students to self-direct learning through play and the teacher goals of teaching specific academic skills. Are these two mutually opposed? In New Zealand children start school at 5 years old. They have National Standards they need to reach by the age of 6. These standards are specifically academic in reading, writing and maths. We believe that some children take longer than a year to reach these standards. Some children are not well served if their social and emotional skills are neglected in order that they reach these specific academic skills.
Two questions – Can you teach academic skills through play alone?
If not, then how do you include both in a learning environment?
This quote from “Play: The pathway from theory to practice” by S. Heidemann and D. Hewitt, really helped me word my thinking.
“Separating play and academics: Early childhood practitioners sometimes set up a false dichotomy between early literacy/math and socio-emotional development (development in the area of understanding and expressing feelings while learning to relate to others). If asked to choose sides, practitioners may align play with socio-emotional development. The academic subjects are more likely to be seen as drills. This false dichotomy plays out at the detriment of children, no matter which side you take. If you choose socio-emotional development as the most important task of the early childhood years, you will design a class with rich play experiences but perhaps very little explicit instruction. If you choose the academic content areas, you may create a setting that is more structured and less spontaneous with play as an adjunct activity. In either case, children lose much. Integration of academics into play brings the best for children and their learning” (Heidemann & Hewitt, 2010).
One of my colleagues often quotes “It is not one way or the other, it is both.” As a team we seek to work between the ends of academics and socio-emotional development. By knowing the ends it gives us freedom to work between. It helps us to know what skills we need to learn to become better at observing students learning and identifying where they are and how best to help them transition to the next step. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximity is helpful here. “In play children seem to perform ahead of themselves, stretching themselves to gain more advanced skills such as self-control, language use, memory, attention, cognitive skills, and cooperation with others.” In play children naturally challenge limits.
The further we have moved from a traditional teaching role to one of facilitator of play, the more we can see the differences and the benefits. Moving toward the edge does that. There are always choices to be made, things to leave behind and new ways to learn.