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Play is Learning

12 May 2016

“Play is the highest form of research” (attributed to Albert Einstein)

  • Rube Goldberg

I often visit our Early Year’s Cubs because I love to feel the energy and creativity that comes across from our youngest students as they learn through play. Role playing cafes or hospitals, constructing futuristic Lego landscapes, or making modern art with food – they are playing but through their play they are constantly learning, exploring and making sense of the world around them.

Einstein’s quotation came to mind as I watched one of our Nursery Cubs completely absorbed in her task of trying to build a ring of sand to create a water pool. As she persevered with her chosen task, she discovered that she needed to wet the sand first to get it to stick together in order to make the walls strong enough and high enough to trap the water. Time and again she tried until at last – success! To the casual observer she was just playing with sand but actually she was learning so much through the medium of play; self-selecting her task, deciding upon the success criteria, and establishing the timescale she would give to this challenge before giving up and moving onto something else. The result? Total and absolute preoccupation and focus, and great learning.

Of course, the notion of learning through play is now commonly accepted as an impactful approach for Early Years where a child’s early learning experience is stimulated by, and guided by inquisitive, free play. Our Early Years staff understand the important role of play in nurturing children's physical, social, emotional and cognitive development and increasingly many aspects of this approach have also percolated up through the primary school where play is often used in a productive manner with older children – both in planned lessons and in free-play sessions.

However, with older students there is often a belief that there is no place for “play”; that they need to have more explicit and concrete tasks and that there simply isn’t enough time as they need to get through the syllabus content. Here at BISS Puxi we do believe that, whatever the age of the students, it is essential to retain the agency and creativity inherent in play and to use “play” in a constructive and exciting manner as a tool to enhance and liberate the learning process. It might look different for older students but the spirit of enquiry and excitement in learning and making sense of new concepts is there whether you are in Nursery or IB. Our approach is to create opportunities and tasks to challenge and deepen children’s learning; to get them to think in different ways, to question, to learn through exploration and imagination, while working individually or collaboratively — many of the same principles as Early Year’s play.

Whenever students are engaged in active learning, outdoor learning, creating, problem solving, storytelling, designing experiments and testing their theories about a subject area - they are learning through a kind of ‘play’. In different contexts we open up the learning tasks so that students can take their learning in different directions – exploiting their individual strengths, interests and existing knowledge. We provide opportunities to extend this learning in ECA’s and projects such as our young entrepreneurs who will promote their businesses in our up and coming Dragon’s Den or our computer coders building their own apps or games.  This is 'play' as the great philosophers understood it: the experience of being an active, creative and a fully autonomous person.

The world is changing and is more uncertain than ever and so creativity is a critical component in enabling us to cope, to find pleasure, and to use our imaginative and innovative powers. Of course we need our students to gain excellent subject knowledge and key skills, to complete their homework tasks and study hard for their exams, but we also want them to develop their curiosity and creativity– and play is a great vehicle for developing creativity.

We will continue to embrace play and creative exploration as valuable teaching tools and advocate that parents encourage their children of all ages to play. In their busy lives it is important that teenagers also get the chance to have time and space to play – they are not wasting time! Well not all of the time, and the tricky job of parenting is to know your own child and to help them to manage the work-play balance.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

Niki Meehan, Vice Principal