When it comes to play-based learning, great minds really do think alike in many ways! We can learn from the wealth of educationalists that have preceded us. Take the McMillan sisters for example, they were promoting outdoor learning through play back in the late 19th century alongside Isaacs who discouraged the desk-based learning that was so prevalent in schools at this time.
About 100 years earlier, Froebel famously coined the term ‘kindergarten’ for his institute for play and activity for small children. This literally means ‘children’s garden’, children engaged in early learning experiences such as free-play, singing, dancing and gardening.
Montessori developed her own ideas yet still included this idea of play, seeing ‘play as a child’s work’. She insisted on child-sized furniture so that children could be as independent as possible, an idea that all modern settings embrace.
Both Piaget and Vygotsky developed theories that help us to understand about developmental stages and the role of the adult in supporting children in their play. Bruner picks up on Vygotsky’s idea of the zone of proximal development – what a child can do with support from a more able other and used the term ‘scaffolding’ to describe the adult’s role in this process.
In Italy, Malaguzzi kept children central to the philosophy within Reggio Emelia, viewing children as creative, competent learners who can be taught by the environment and the way that it is set up to facilitate learning.
At this time of political instability, it can help to hold on to what we believe to be important about early childhood education and care.
- Children are central to everything we do
- Children learn best through play
- Not all learning is innate –we need to provide opportunities for all children to develop their potential
- Children need to move and be physically active as much as possible throughout the day
- Children are not small adults and should not be treated as such
- Children thrive in loving relationships
- Repeated experiences strengthen learning
- Children also learn through imitation
- Children need to hear language in order to communicate
- For children to become socially successful, they need opportunities to interact with others
- Children need to have their feelings acknowledged in order to be emotionally literate
- We can and do make a difference to children’s lives.
We can develop our practice in the light of this ethos and the theories that have underpinned these ideas. Educationalists help us to understand how children learn and develop and become lifelong learners. It is my view that we can take or adapt as much or as little as we want from these great masters, while holding on to our own ethos and vision of what we want for the children in our settings.
All of these theorists, and so many more, recognised the importance of the early years and how vital the role of the adult is in supporting the children.
Hold on to what you know is right and best for the young children in your care. You are the expert regarding your children, so keep them central to your practice and these ‘Greats’ will be smiling down on you!
About the author
Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.
Tamsin’s book, Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children, was released in July 2017.