The above-ground, visible portion of a building may win all the recognition and praise but it couldn’t do so without the solid support provided below-ground. So it is with education and laying this solid foundation is central to the role of Early Years education. Amongst educationalists there is no doubt about the vital role played by Early Years education.
Of course the family environment has the greatest impact on a child’s early (and subsequent) development, but as UNICEF research points out: “Children who receive assistance in their early years achieve more success at school. As adults they have higher employment and earnings, better health, and lower levels of both welfare dependence and crime rates than those who don’t have these early opportunities.” (unicef.org/earlychildhood).
The essence of a good Early Years education is play. Play is vital for the development of a child. One of the great frustrations for Early Years teachers is to hear people complain, “But all they do is play all day!” Play is the basis for learning. Through play children are exploring the world around them and their relationship with it. It allows them to develop their physical, cognitive, linguistic and emotional abilities whilst also developing their creativity and imagination.
To put that into context, there is a focus in the educational world on developing “21st Century Skills” which often revolve around the “Three Cs” of Communication, Collaboration and Creativity. These are exactly the skills developed through play in an Early Years setting, subsequent year groups in schools can learn a lot from this approach.
The role of an Early Years teacher is to encourage play, not least by providing opportunities for child-initiated play. But more than that, a skilled Early Years teacher will carefully select play opportunities that guide children into areas important for their development and by leading a variety of play activities with individuals, small groups and whole classes.
A skilled Early Years teacher will weave various learning opportunities into play, such as sorting, counting and early writing practices. They will structure play that encourages an ever-expanding vocabulary, including for example, the days of the week, the months of the year and types of weather. They will introduce children to letters and the sounds they make (phonics) and introduce a range of stories and poems to stimulate an enthusiasm for reading. They will also encourage children to develop emotional and social resilience by knowing just when to intervene and when to step back.
My own personal philosophy of a good school being a happy place in which everyone is safe, treated with respect and encouraged to learn is exemplified, arguably in its purest form, by a good Early Years setting – and to see this in practice is a joy to behold.
Kenneth Page is Primary Principal at BISP, you can follow him on Twitter @BISPPrimary.
More than a game
Play is a strange word and seems even stranger when applied to education. It is a word that makes many parents wary – no one wants to pay a lot of money for play – after all, can’t children do that at home? And isn’t the term play-based education a contradiction in itself? Shouldn’t we separate play from reality?
But in fact, when children play they are rehearsing real life experiences – they practice what they observe in the grown-up world, they learn about relationships, they experiment and they mimic. Play is life itself – reduced to an appropriate and brain-friendly level for children.
Their young brains are genetically programmed to use play as rehearsal for life. So the better, more varied and more structured the play-based environment is, then the better prepared a child will be for later life.
– BISP Headmaster Neil Richards