Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Work of Play (a guest blog by Adam Annand).

Adam is Associate Director at London Bubble (he's the one with the lighter hair)

At London Bubble we have been running the Speech Bubbles project in schools since 2009. The project has been developed to bring a playful, creative approach to support children in KS1 (aged 5-7 years) with their communication, confidence and wellbeing. The children we are working with have all been referred because they are not quite managing in the classroom and they need a little extra input. Working in small groups, no more than 10 at a time, we give the children the time and the space to tell their own imagined stories to an adult and then act them out in the small group. The evidence tells us that this is effective, that the children’s confidence, communication and wellbeing are improved and that this has a positive knock on effect of improving their literacy. The children thoroughly enjoy the programme; schools are keen to book it in, the drama practitioners and schools staff who work on it say that it is improving their practice and parent/carers are happy that their children are being creatively supported. 
Whilst this is all very positive, it does seem that that what we are doing in the sessions is increasingly at odds with the rest of what is happening in KS1. In Speech Bubbles the children are learning through play, they move around, they tell whatever story they want to tell, in whatever way they want to tell it. Perhaps we should be saving this stuff for the early years, the nursery and reception classes where it seems a more natural fit? 

Then I remembered this passionate, urgent and insistent creative piece told in Speech Bubbles by a six year old boy for acting out by his peers. This boy was struggling in the formal classroom, but was thriving in Speech Bubbles sessions;

I play music, I play jumping, I play Ben 10, I play sonic, I play power rangers and I play games and I play jumping and racing, I play skipping and jumping and I play games

Ok so this is useful, it reminds me of why we are doing what we are doing, but still we seem to be flying in the face of fashion, should this just be for the early years? So I went in search of reading, or guidance about learning through play in KS1. I searched and searched and I struggled to find reading to support the work, everywhere I looked, everyone I asked pointed me to great resources, but they were all for the early years; books, activities, schemes of work but nothing substantial for KS1.  
So I decided to go to the top, the Department for Education must have something to say on this matter, I follow them on twitter so I sent this tweet;

@educationgovuk what advice is there for learning through play in KS1?

And got this back, 

@londonbubble_ed  One for Ofsted rather than us, this is useful:

I replied, 

@educationgovuk Thank you. That report is about early years just wondered if you have anything about play in KS1? I will ask @Offsted news

and I got this reply from Ofsted,

@londonbubble_ed nothing specific to KS1, but this may be useful? :


Surely learning through play can't be over by the time you're 5! If it is then I’m not sure what our six year old who likes to play will have to say about it, not that anybody is asking him.

To top all of this, I have been hearing how in some year 1 classrooms things have changed dramatically in the last couple of years, increasing pressure on English and Maths has led to much more formal teaching. From parents, teachers and support staff I have heard stories of the adults and children becoming increasingly frustrated and constrained.  Two particular anecdotes stand out: 

A year 1 teacher planning to give up at the end of this year because she didn’t have time to read her class a story until January, (that’s four months into the school year!) 

A friend who is a parent of a boy in year 1 being astonished by the changes since her older child was in year 1 (he’s only in year 3 now) because the lack of play opportunities was making the children ‘sad’. 

So how relieved was I to find this petition asking for an extension of the early years curriculum from, birth to 5 years to birth to 7 years. The petition has been set up in light of growing concerns about children’s mental health, illiteracy and teachers leaving the profession in droves. 

Of course there was no guidance on learning through play outside of the early years, because 5-7 really is part of the early years, if only we would recognise it as such. 

The children in Speech Bubbles have all been referred with a communication need that is stopping them effectively managing in the classroom. Those children take 45 minutes away from the curriculum each week to make up stories and act them out, and they enjoy it, they smile, they have a twinkle in their eyes, they laugh, they move around and they have ownership of their own stories. However, at a time when 8 year olds in England are reported as 13th out of 16 countries for self-reported ‘happiness’ it strikes me that we have to move to a system that gives teachers space and time to bring some of that playful learning to all children, 

PS In case this all sounds a little arty and not that rigorous you can check out our evidence of impact here

1 comment:

  1. About the time this article was written was the same point at which I left teaching after a 14 year career. I just can't do it any more. It is so obvious that there needs to be less formal learning and more play and creativity for children up to the age of 7 in line with education in Europe and yet there is no will in schools to discuss or seriously contemplate this, more of a shrugging your shoulders type attitude accompanied by an "I know, but what can I do". Teachers still in the job have to maintain this defeatist attitude in order to continue to work comfortably in a system which deep down they know is detrimental and wrong. Plus they are exhausted from the demands of the job which are increasingly difficult as our children struggle to function within it. Government policy is increasingly taking formal learning younger and younger and there is not enough resistance to this trend which is deeply harmful to our children. Thank you for opening a discussion which desperately needs to be had.