30th June 2022 All Posts Expert Advice

The Power of Play in Early Years: with Alistair Bryce Clegg

With the Childcare and Education Expo North taking place just a stone’s throw away from Connect HQ, we couldn’t resist popping down to Bolton to catch up with our Northern friends in the sector. It was the perfect opportunity for us to discover fellow early years suppliers and catch up with some of the leading sector experts. 

Our favourite part of the day had to be getting to see Alistair Bryce Clegg’s seminar that focused on ‘Play – The Superpower We All Possess’.  Andrew West-Moore, Product Manager at My First Five Years summed it up perfectly, describing the day as ‘an informative talk full of usual comedic realism that is so true of being a parent/childcare practitioner.’

Here we’ve taken the opportunity to share with you what we learned on the day.

Play is often undervalued and misunderstood

It is often thought that sometimes we need to get play out of the way, so the ‘real’ learning can commence, but it is actually the power of play that enables children to learn. 

‘Play’ relates to the importance of childhood, wellbeing, health and wider development. The term play is often misunderstood by people assuming that it has no academic value but this couldn’t be less true. 

Play underpins the whole EYFS and all aspects of a child’s learning and development. Through play, children can develop their language skills, understand their emotions and build creativity, social, and intellectual skills.

Ambiguous resources over insta-perfect activities

In today’s insta-perfect world, practitioners and parents can often feel the pressure of constantly trying to engage children in activities that look amazing. But are these activities even worth the amount of time they have taken to set up? Not just for you but for the child’s learning and development? 

Alistair commented that “often the most ambiguous resources are the best ones to use”, children must have the space and time to lead their own play and learn from themselves.

There’s a well-known phrase which is ‘boredom is the mother of invention’ and with a little bit of boredom, children will become more curious and will begin to use the resources around them to invent their own play and learning opportunities.

The importance of child-led play

Allowing children to initiate their own play is beneficial to their learning, as children learn best when they are engaged. 

Child-led play allows children to build communication skills and learn how to operate things around them. For most children, play is natural and spontaneous although some children may need extra help from adults.

If play is directed by adults it can take learning opportunities away from the children. Often, the most powerful learning experiences happen when children are given the freedom to work things out on their own, for example, creating their own rules of the game, problem-solving, thinking critically and originally, and making their own decisions. Alistair commented that ‘play is the root of high-level engagement’. 

Structured and unstructured play

Sometimes when activities or daily routines are too structured it can take away the element of play. Studies suggest that when children take part in adult-led activities they lose some important aspects of their learning, for example, making decisions and regulating behaviour. Activities are often set up by adults to aid children’s learning and development but the freedom of play is thought to be much more beneficial to them.

Play encourages children to learn skills such as negotiation, problem-solving, sharing, and working within groups. Children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace and discover their own interests through play. Unstructured play may lead to more physical movement and healthier children.

When to join in and when to watch

Watching children play is important as it allows us to understand what children are interested in and how we can aid their learning. Observing children is fundamental in helping move children’s learning forward.

Knowing when to join in with children’s play can be difficult as it could disrupt the play and make it fall apart. The Early Years Careers put together some top tips for understanding the right moment to join in with children’s play.

  • Observe what is happening, and gather some information on what the children are doing. Do they need adult interaction and if so what would the purpose of this be?
  • Follow children’s lead, if children suggest a certain role for you to play accept this and sensitively use your skill and knowledge to enhance the learning.
  • Offer ideas that are related to the play, avoid asking closed questions and instead engage with the children by following their directions and tuning into their ideas.
  • Allow children to steer the play. It is very easy for adults to take over; this however can take away crucial elements of children’s play.
  • Do the children give you eye contact? Are they happy for you to observe them?
  • Are children involving you in their conversations? and are they trying to involve you in their play?

Provide your staff with more time to empower children’s play by using iConnect in your setting. Book a demo today! To stay up to date with all the latest childcare sector news, sign up for our newsletter or follow us on our social media channels.

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