Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to attend our own TIS PD Day and the ACAMIS ECE Conference. At both venues, the same quote came from the keynote speakers regarding the importance of play as an outlet for learning.
“Play is the highest form of research”
At TIS, our kindergarten program is designed to have children learn in a play based environment with both teacher and child being active researchers and participants. If we view play as complex, sophisticated and deep, then how we approach child learning shifts.
The first step in this is to observe and listen to the children. If we want students to determine what is of value to research, we need to observe their interests, listen to their dialogue and questions with each other and make observations about their discovery. Teachers support this stage of research by providing engaging and explorative materials for children to investigate. Play is our pedagogical tool that guides us in our practice. We may ask exploratory questions, to elicit further information from children to examine their line of thinking. We want the experiences for children to be authentic to their lives to allow a shared experience to occur between children, the environment and the teacher. If we think back to many of our own lives and important discoveries, they can often be connected to shared experiences within our environment.
From here, we start to compile our observations, thoughts and questions into areas of further exploration. We might hypothesize, look at cause and effect, or start to explore the questions we have. As researchers, we need to determine how we can test our thoughts, what materials are needed and the process to follow to check our understanding. When we test an idea or create a project from our data collection, we delve deeper into the process of the work. Children trial their thoughts and reflect on their observations which are critical in developing the child’s understanding of the world and concepts they are learning. We want children to construct their understanding of the world not simply consume this knowledge.
This powerful process not only allows children to make sense of the world around them, develop skills that will support them for the rest of their lives, but supports the image of the child as a capable, competent being who we honour the intelligence of. We acknowledge their intellectual capacity and give them the agency to take meaningful and intentional action in their learning. When we have a sense of control of our learning, and that our ideas are being valued, we have a desire to engage fully into the process. If we truly listen to the children, we will know what matters to them, and make them active participants and decision makers in the process.
Too often, play is seen as frivolous, an escape from real learning and something to do in our spare time. However, when we examine our perceptions and notions of play, we can see how complex, deep and powerful it is for children in their development. After all, if we know how to research, we can innovate, improve and critically think about the world around us. At TIS, our image of the child is one of sophistication, complexity and competency. Play is powerful, and it is how we support the development of our youngest learners at TIS.