Monday, 11 January 2021

Play Based Learning

So here in N. Ireland we are back to online learning as schools are closed to the majority of pupils. Moving online this Lockdown should been more manageable for most as schools have spent the last few months upskilling staff and pupils for this very situation - even though we would all prefer to teach face to face any day. 

Play with water outdoors to explore match and science. 

In preschool a lot of classes already use an online tool to keep in touch with parents and share what is going on in the classroom so that makes it easy to switch to home learning in many ways but this pandemic has made it harder to let parents experience a play based curriculum in person. 

Normally at this time of the year we would have a whole term behind us and parents would have been in and out of the classroom on a regular basis. In my setting many would have spent at least 10-15 minutes playing outside each morning with their child, joined us on school trips and visits and taken part in Stay and Play sessions. Even at pick up time, many parents would have enjoyed their child showing them what resources they had been playing with that afternoon or hoped to play with the next day. Monday to Thursday parents and children would have poured over a selection of books to take home and enjoy each evening. Last term was so different and definitely not how a preschool experience should be for parents. Parents have had to drop their children at the playground gate and pick them up from the back door every day, they haven't got into the school building at all and haven't been able to stay to see their child playing in the playground. I have uploaded videos and photos to our class app and school website but it is not the same as actually getting to spend an hour or two in the nursery or on a trip with us.

Make shapes, letters or numbers outdoors. 

So, now we move to online learning for our nursery children and for many parents this is an anxious time, especially if they have other older children at home and are trying to juggle work for themselves too. But as I listened to many questions from anxious parents I realised what an impact NOT being in the nursery this year has had on their perceptions of learning for a preschooler. 

For a preschooler the next few weeks are not about sitting up at a table learning letter, shapes or numbers from books or tracing letters etc. In my setting all learning is done through play, at no point do we sit the children down and say 'Now we are going to learn shapes etc.' and that isn't how it should be done at home either. 

Learning all about shapes whilst playing

There are 4 parts to the nursery day that I think it would be helpful to try and have at home some days - snack, lunch, tidy up and story are big transition times of the nursery day and they provide a welcome break between other types of play and learning. This year our day is even less structured and all the staff agree that is is a more pleasant day for all concerned. 

If parents want to help their child learn at home set up their toys for them and encourage your children to play independently for at least 30 minutes, if you have other children at home even better as they can play together. Let children role play and dress up, let them play with small world figures - people, animals etc. encourage them to chat away as they play, if you have time to join is do but it is important for them to learn to play on their own too. As children play with their small toys they are learning how to sort - they might put all the small animals together or all the ones on 2 legs or ones with babies. they might sort by colour, shape or size. Hopefully you will hear them chattering away to themselves as they try to make sense of their world through play - you will probably hear 'your voice' in there sometimes too as children repeat phrases you might say to them a lot. I always enjoy but also cringe when I see children playing out being the teacher with their peers and see them holding a book like I do or saying things they have heard me say (I hear the phrase 'Excuse me' a lot as I must say this as a way to show I am not happy with some behaviour!)

Play a game to teach prepositions - put crocodile in front of, side, behind etc. 

You could have a couple different types of play set up for them - building with blocks, lego etc. and drawing, small world play and books, don't be afraid to set out the clean laundry and ask children to sort it into piles of who it belongs to in the family, sorting socks is a great skill and a fun task for children whilst a terrible one for adults! Get them to sort out the cutlery too. 

if you can set them up at the sink with some water and toys and allow them to explore early maths and science through water play - this can of course be done outside too with a basin or bucket. Young children will endlessly fill and pour from one container to another and this is all great for understanding capacity and volume. On these very cold nights fill up some old containers with water and put some small toys into them and have fun trying to get them out the next day if they freeze.

If you have time, the biggest thing you can do is read with your child or get an older sibling to, they will benefit from time reading aloud and the younger child will gain so much. When reading one to one a child gets time to look at the pictures and discover small details, they are hearing rhyming words and understanding how words sound and this will all help them when begin to learn to read. You can point out 'their' letter when it appears in words and what other names or words have that letter. In preschool it is all about giving a context to learning - it is more important that a child recognise their letter in lots of different places that they learn to recite the alphabet without knowing what the letters actually mean. 

Young children learn by doing and by having fun rather than sitting up at a table with books etc. Go for a walk if you can and have fun counting how many steps between lamp posts, what numbers you can see or letters or shapes. 

During the next few weeks I'll try and write a few more posts about how to try and have some fun whilst learning at home. Best of luck to everyone who is trying to home school, work from home and manage younger children. You can do this and schools have got your back.