Tag Archives: play

Learning through play

After failing abysmally to keep up with #ukedchat on twitter, I thought I would write here what I should have wrote there.

Learning through play sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? It works so well in the EYFS/KS1 bracket, it’s a shame that it isn’t more widely used in the higher age ranges, isn’t it?

Well, that depends.

I trained, many moons ago, as a Playworker. With a capital P. So I can only answer questions about play from that, slightly altered perspective.

First things first, what is play? Bob Hughes is a good place to start; this is from his book, “Evolutionary playwork and reflective analytic practice”:

“According to the literature, behaviour has to satisfy several of the following criteria to be play. It has to:
– be spontaneous (Patrick, 1914)
– be first-hand experience and include struggle, manipulation, exploration, discovery and practice (Bruce, 1994)
– be goalless – it is often described in terms of process rather than product (Bruner, 1972)
– be freely chosen, i.e., is a voluntary activity (Neuman, 1973)
– be personally directed by the child (Hughes, 1996b)
– be intrinsically motivated, i.e., performed by the child for no external goal or reward (Koestler, 1964)
– be where the child is in control of the content and intent (Hughes, 2000)
– contain play cues or meta-signals, like eye contacts, facial expressions and body positions that start processes of many social and non-social engagements (Bateson, 1955; Else and Sturrock, 1998)
– be a performance of motor patterns in novel sequences, like galumphing, or movements out of context, like the cat that runs sideways with its tail at an odd angle (Miller, 1973)
– be repetitious, thus facilitating learning of complex skills (Connolly, 1973)
– be neophilic, i.e., attracted to the novel, new, fun, interesting (Morris, 1964, 1967)
– be non-detrimental (King, 1987)
– balance experience (Hughes, 1988).

And if it does not satisfy several of these criteria, whatever else it is, it is not play.”

Certainly, some of those criteria can be met in a playful classroom – but can enough of them be seen to use the term “play”? Having a quick game of blockbusters-wants to be a millionaire may be a fun way to reinforce learning but it’s not play. Having the play dough out so the children can make animals (and you can get them to do a bit of maths) -it’s not really play. Anything you plan wipes out a huge proportion of that list.

Even a subject like art (in our school, at least) has a focus on the outcome. That surprised me. I still struggle with that, to be honest. I’ve heard children be told that they aren’t painting in the correct way – same direction only, folks! I thought art was about freedom of expression and creativity. The argument is there that the children need to learn the technical aspects, they need to practice, consider and refine. Play could be squishing your hands in the poster paint because it feels cold and slimy. You might find out that when you rub your yellow hand and your blue hand, they both turn green but that’s because you like the slippery slidiness and the unfamiliar feel of it on the backs of your hands. You might decide to wipe it along a piece of paper, just to see what happens. This doesn’t get you to paint in the style of Kandinsky though, does it?

This is where I begin to struggle to conflate (capital P) Play and (school, outcome obsessed) learning.

Maybe you have a better experience? I’d love to hear about it if so.

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