Play and learning in the early years

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Play and learning in the early years

Agency is the latest buzzword in educational circles, especially in international schools. And how can I, as an Early Childhood teacher, interpret this? The IBPYP defines agency as the power to take meaningful and intentional action, and acknowledges the rights and responsibilities of the individual, supporting voice, choice and ownership for everyone in the learning community.

Learning in the early years

When it is teachers that design, plan and implement each unit, how can any student have agency if they are simply following the teachers lead? Early Years teachers would, on the whole, say that their students have greater agency than others further up the school, due to not having as many academic or other requirements placed on them.

In the Early Years, children often explore their units through play and this naturally lends itself to giving agency to our youngest students.

But does it really? If play is setting up activities that all the students must complete, if it is asking all students to engage in the same thinking routines or presenting assessments that look eerily similar, then I would question, where is the play and where is the agency?

Play with or without a purpose, it is in these moments that students find their voice, action their choices and untimely take ownership of their learning. And this learning should look different for every student.

But what if we changed the way we think of and view our units of inquiry? What if we wrote units that allowed students to interpret them in their own way and in their own time? In doing this, would we not give students a strong sense of agency?

Your Early Childhood Career

At my current school, we asked these very questions. Our answer was to look at our units, do they naturally lend themselves to what we see in our students play already? We then took the bold step of deciding to run all of these units year long, our vision was for individual students to dip in and out of each unit throughout the year.

Most importantly, no two students inquiries would look the same. It was our job as teachers to interpret their play, questions, thinking and reflections into these units. To help us, we adopted a digital portfolio platform — Storypark.

This platform is designed especially for Early Childhood and gives us greater opportunities to track each students learning through anecdotal stories. Our stories can be individual or group and as our Early Years is an open, free play environment, teachers can write stories about all students in the EY, not just those in their class.

By following the students lead in what they want to learn about we are striving to give a strong voice, choice and ownership to each student.

Our students lead their own learning, it is their passions and interests that drive our day. On any given day we can be discovering the solar system, creating a robot hand, exploring bugs and experimenting with colours in art, all at the same time.

Play and learning in the early years

At first glance none of these fit within our units, however, as a team, we have chosen to view our units differently, they are broad and open and can be interpreted in various ways.

By giving fluidity to our units, our students know that they are listened to, their questions and wonderings are followed and their ideas are actioned. It is student agency at its imperfect best.With contributions from leading play scholars, it brings together theory, research, policy and practice in relation to play and learning in early years settings.

The emphasis is on the relationship between play and learning, and play and pedagogy, and the need to understand these dimensions more substantially in order to teach with confidence.

The Importance of Play. Play underpins the EYFS. It also underpins learning and all aspects of children’s development. Through play, children develop language skills, . However, some have argued that Early Years learning should focus on play and inquiry, in part because of evidence that, in some situations, direct instruction can limit children’s thinking and discovery (see, for example, (Bonawitza et al., )).

Early Years teachers would, on the whole, say that their students have greater agency than others further up the school, due to not having as many academic or other requirements placed on them. In the Early Years, children often explore their units through play and this naturally lends itself to giving agency to our youngest students.

Early Learning and Childcare (ELC), Learning and assessment, Science Technology Engineering Mathematics, Play Back to results Education Scotland is the national body in Scotland for supporting quality and improvement in learning and teaching. the learning and development of disadvantaged children, especially funded two-year-olds.

All providers, which included maintained schools, pre-schools, children’s centres and childminders, were selected because they were successful in achieving good or Teaching and play in the early years.

Learning through play - Wikipedia