16 Sep

My belief is that children don’t necessarily need guidance during play; at least not as much as we think they do. Watch children in their natural environment and you’ll see them engaging intuitively in free, uninterrupted play. You’ll notice how infants are guided by the sounds, vibrations, and sensations of the world around them; how toddlers are guided by an intuitive curiosity, like a teacher eager to share something new with children; or how one of the kindergarten children eagerly awaits their family to show them something they have made. Children are guided by their own intelligence, a powerful imagination and an innate ‘knowing’ of what to do, where to explore and how to experiment in exactly the way they need to. This a behaviour we see in play. Play is the behaviour of learning, understanding, and interacting with people, places, and materials. Play is the way of doing and being that is programmed inside each and every one of us. As adults we remember play as joyful, adventurous, and symbolic of our childhood. Play is expression. I’ve been reflecting on why some children have lost their fiery sense of curiosity and expression, especially recently during the pandemic. I sense this in children who are too eager to be immersed in technology or who often complain of boredom if not near a screen, or children who look for the next activity, without finishing or persisting with the one they have started. Where has the creativity gone?  Has the pandemic stifled creativity and imagination and how can we as teachers reignite children’s love of joyful play? As children mature, they see that society is governed by order, rules, and conformity. Some children and adults for that matter seem to accept this, while others rally, riot or shout from the rooftops for their right to just be. (We all know of at least one spirited activist like this). I would say I'm one of those activists. The expectations we place on children through checklists, schedules, and a rush to get things done are governed by us, the adults, but I question why are we subjecting children to the regimes of order over the delights of play? It’s interesting to consider how our way of knowing, doing and being is ever so subtly and intricately weaved into the development of curriculum, unconsciously I have to say.   We have plans for individual children; plans for groups; outcomes that we want and/or expect to see children meet; ‘where to next’ intentions; goals that we set for children based on our observations. We have environments that are created based on our interpretations and developmental expectations. We play a significant role in striving to ensure that the educational program and our practice are enhancing outcomes for children. We put in the hard work and go above and beyond and rightly so, because we want to provide the best outcomes for children. However, I question could the regulation and organisation of checklists be taking away the child’s inner intelligence and a natural course of development? Let me be clear, in no way am I saying that the planning work we are doing is not relevant or damaging to the child? I suppose I am questioning where the balance lies. I am wondering how much of our intervention do children really need. Are we truly respecting the child’s right to play wholeheartedly if we oversee so much of when, where and how it happens? Is it unrealistic or plain ridiculous to think that if we simplified our approach to programming and planning, children would still learn all that they need to learn, as well as maintain their innate curiosity and zest for creativity and imagination? If we come back to what we know about the behaviour of play and learning, I wonder how much of the natural course of play is, in fact, being guided, monitored, and influenced by us as teachers? Do we trust children enough to take several steps back and let them show us the way? Could this have implications for our pedagogical approach? Considering the current pandemic, could too much or too little interference and intervention have consequences for children’s learning and development in the short or long term? We can never truly be 100% sure that what we have planned or provisioned for children is what they really need, for that is something only the child's inner intelligence would ever really know. I ask you to reflect on your role as an early childhood professional and your position in children’s play. I believe that we are born with the need to play. Play is a purposeful characteristic of life that invokes feelings of joy, connection, and learning. Therefore, what happens when play is spoilt by formalities and checklists? Could it be that despite our best intentions, we are unconsciously diluting children’s dispositions for lifelong learning? What would happen if we were just in the moment with children and in awe of their play rather than tracking their play by outcomes? What if children just need authenticity, nature, and time? Maybe children just need to be trusted to learn naturally through play.

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