As parents and professionals working in early years, we hope that every day is full of fun, laughter, friendships and success for every child.
Our youngest children are sometimes reliant, or indeed benefit from adults who are keen to support and enable deeper richer learning by being a partner in their play.
The power of play
At the heart of our play lies the children. Our children should be our first consideration as we set up the play. They should know we love them, care about them and want to spend time with them.
We should consider the engagement we noticed that highlights the needs, interests and ideas of the children; for example, the actions we noticed yesterday or earlier and build on that.
If we are looking for each child to have a sense of wellbeing and fulfilment as they play, their engagement should see them active in mind, body and heart. As a child engages, as they explore and discover they are thinking – their brain is actively working. If they are intrigued or enchanted in their environments, they are likely to feel an emotional response, the heart is activated. Finally if our spaces and places are full of opportunities for manipulating and investigating then each child will be physically involved, their body will ‘feel’ the memories being created.
As a child plays in a rich environment, where we have played a part in providing a meaningful construction around them, where they can engage their senses and open themselves to thinking; we open a world of possibilities.
Take these fascinating loose parts pieces. These beautiful sets allow children to engage in unstructured free play, making choices and decisions, challenging themselves to combine, align, carry, transport, stack and classify in multiple ways.
As each child manipulates and engages, we will notice their actions lead them to construct small worlds, use in symbolic and transformational ways, developing mathematical thinking and stimulating language – both critical in the early years’ developmental stages.
As we then add in extra invitations to engage, we begin to highlight new thinking new challenges.
As the children begin to collaborate, extending each other’s ideas and suggestions we will begin to notice their actions and decisions, how they communicate and articulate their thoughts and how they shape their joint thinking into a deeper and broader understanding of the world they are surrounded by.
As a child engages, they will feel and see the success of their endeavours. With this, they will grow in confidence. As they grow in confidence, they master the use of their skills. These will be skills they can call upon each time they try something new or repeat an action or decision they know works. This will strengthen their confidence and self-belief. They will then be eager take them forward these skills and keenly use them in other activities and play situations.
As the children collaborate and work together, pause, step back and watch.
Children engage easily in a world where there is lots to discover and be curious about. Where their engagement is deep and full of questions to be asked with not just one answer. I think someone once said – for every question you want to ask a child they are likely to have over a hundred they want to ask you.
It is also important for us to recognise that their questions may not always be verbal. As they think, they will be having an internal dialogue about their own engagement, in how they may respond.
They could be designing how they intend using the manipulative materials, creating a plan of other resources they need to construct their response.
They could be wondering, hypothesising and comparing two previous attempts to create with their chosen materials, before they organise and decide on how to interact at this point.
As our children play with loose parts, open-ended materials, it is tricky to know when to step in and when to step back, when the best moment of involving ourselves in their interaction is.
We never always get it right, but as long as we have that little pause and ask ourselves, we are trying.
We should always interact with warmth and attentiveness, highlight to each child how effective their contributions are, this develops bedrock for their social, emotional and educational wellbeing.
Sensitive and timely interactions ensure dispositions for play can blossom. Using these interactions to model language, builds skills and understanding, helps with linguistic confidence. Bandura suggests that if children don’t have the opportunity to hear the linguistic utterances of models.
Love is the most important consideration to ensure we are tuning into our children’s wellbeing. If we focus on play, fabulous rich play where children become deeply involved this love will lead their learning to, what a bonus!
Article written by Alice Sharp
Early Years Specialist