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Alternative learning; Montessori and Steiner
30 Mar
Alternative learning; Montessori and Steiner
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By Jeni Wilson This article explore 2 types of alternative learning; Montessori and Steiner (or Waldorf), and how they can benefit the student. Both have maintained popularity over time and are similar in their child or student-centred curriculum that values both curiosity and play.  Choice Choosing the right type of education for your child is […]

26 Mar
The role of the teacher/adult in play
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By Jeni Wilson

Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth (Ginsburg, 2007). But the role of the teacher/adult in play, though important, is often misunderstood.

The temptation for teacher/adults is often to do things for kids or to tell them what to do to ‘save’ or control them. This can defeat fundamental purposes of play and reduce the benefits (hyperlink to benefits of play).

The purpose of play

Some of the purposes of play include: to build resilience, develop lifelong skills (including creativity), relieve stress, form bonds, use imaginations, self exploration and to have fun (Brown, 2014).  Even when teacher/adults cannot identify the purpose, play is not purposeless. For example, a child fascinated with learning to juggle might want to master that skill, have fun, impress mates, fill in time, or be better at basketball. 

We have to learn to live with the fact that our goals don’t always match children’s goals, and for them, their goals are going to be much more enticing.

“Teacher/adult interactions with children have an impact on the play space and children’s play” (Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group, 2005).

Teacher/adult Interaction or Interference?

The role of the teacher/adult will have an impact on student’s play. The way they set up the space, the things they say before, during and after play, the time given, the resources offered and not offered (such as loose parts).

The question teacher/adults always need to ask before deciding on their actions while children playing is ….

What is the purpose?
  • If we want children to develop resilience …why would we always protect them from the (safe) responses of others?
  • If we want then to be risk takers …why would we tell them what to do and how to do it?
  • If we want them to be persistent… why do we make them stop when they are focussed?
  • If we want them to be problem solvers…why would we give them all the materials they need?

What would you do if… 

Play scenarioOption AOption B
A child is struggling with trying a rope to their group constructed machineTie the knot for themSay ‘I’m impressed that you keep trying for yourself’
A child is playing by themselfAsk another child to work with themStart playing yourself nearby
A child is trying to join a group and change the original constructionTell them to find another groupRemind them that the group have already started and to remember to be respectful of everyone’s ideas
A child is sitting by themselves watching othersTell them to find a group to join inAsk them what they are thinking and planning to do

The role of the teacher/adult and their interactions with play can build or reduce a child’s confidence, reflection skills and independence. While the option A responses above may be quicker and feel more comfortable, option B responses are more likely to support children to make decisions for themselves, develop skills and improve their self esteem.

Playing with children not controlling the play

Ideally, some play involves teacher/adults, but when play is controlled by adults, the benefits of play can, at the very least, be watered down. 

Taking cues from children

Taking cues from children shows them that you believe in their ability as capable learners, thinkers and risk takers who can make their own decisions. This is motivating and leads to a stronger sense of wellbeing and confidence (Sewell, Wilson, Laing, and Veerman. (2020)). 

Scaffolding learning through play

Teacher/adults make a huge difference when scaffolding learning through play and extending children’s knowledge and skills. Children often like adults to join in to their play! It’s hard, but important not to take over. 

Knowing when to observe, pose questions, stand back, direct, interact, explain, give feedback and instruct is an art!

Roles of a Teacher/adultExamples
NoticingBeing keen observers of children skills and using this data for planning further learning/play. 
EncouragingProviding challenges, minimal constructive feedback and a safe environment.
NamingBeing explicit about skills and naming materials/resources.
WaitingBeing patient. Giving time and space for children to solve their own problems, make their own choices and mistakes. Not interfering, waiting for them to invite you to play.
Taking their leadShowing authentic interest in children’s play/ideas/interests. Not instigating play.
QuestioningAsking genuine questions about their thinking and decision making.

Adapted from Nudel Kart Teacher Manual (2020).

Teacher/adults can learn a lot from watching students at play, waiting for their invitations and their student leads. Prompting questions can be used to help guide students to challenge and modify their own play (if necessary). Observations and answers to questions can be used for teacher planning.

The Nüdel Kart, created by Playground Ideas, offers a great solution for teachers and adults to observe play. The kart comes with a teacher training manual with example teacher questions to stimulate student thinking and the example lesson plan.

The question we should always ask before intervening in play is – What is the purpose? 

References

Centre for Evidence and Implementation (2019). Nudel KART: encouraging play with children. (Developed for Playground Ideas). Melbourne, Australia.

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, ; and the Committee on Communications and ; and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health Paediatrics January 2007,  119 (1) 182-191; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2006-2697

Sewell, C. Wilson, J. Laing, B. and Veerman, M. (2020) Nudel Kart Teacher Manual.

Brown, K. (2014) What is the Purpose of Play? https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/purpose-play-wcz/

25 Mar
Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination
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By Jeni Wilson

Luckily, Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination are innate. However, these skills and dispositions, so highly regarded in preschools, are often neglected as children grow older.

Teachers often complain about a crowded curriculum and therefore, in practice, the basics get priority. Play and other contexts for developing these skills and dispositions are the poor cousins in curriculum implementation. 

The connection of play, Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination to learning cannot be underestimated (Walker, 2005) but sadly it is.

“Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” Ken Robinson

Here’s a list of fundamental beliefs that underpin the development of Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination:

What teachers and caregivers can BELIEVE:

  • That children can take responsibility for their own learning and be self-directed
  • That children are problem solvers and problem posers
  • Independence is important for lifelong learning
  • All children can learn
  • Success and confidence are linked  
  • With minimal adult direction, students can learn and become resilient
  • Children can set their own learning goals
  • Children’s questions should be valued
  • Persistence in play/learning is important
  • Student voice is advantageous to learning
  • Sustained time on task is important
  • Having fun and optimism contributes to Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination

 “There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”  Edward de Bono

There are a number of simple things that teachers/caregivers can do to enact what they believe and to enhance Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination. 

What teachers and caregivers can DO:

  • Emphasise inquiry focussed learning
  • Incorporate more play
  • Use cooperative groups
  • Set challenging learning tasks where risk taking is needed
  • Use higher order questions especially those that require ‘out of the box’ responses
  • Get children to visualise and imagine
  • Demonstrate that Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination are valued
  • Provide open ended tasks 
  • Incorporate more STEM tasks 
  • Integrate the Arts into regular classroom tasks
  • Teach children to be self-aware
  • Focus on the whole child
  • Be flexible
  • Choose tasks that are engaging
  • Create an environment that encourages Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” Thomas A. Edison

The role of loose parts play

As I was typing this article I was more and more aware that play with loose parts would achieve the characteristics in the lists above.  I have seen first hand how curious children are when playing with the Nüdel Kart because of its open ended nature and the unlimited types of play and outcomes that are possible.

It is fitting then to finish this article with some reflections by children about their experiences with the Nüdel Kart. They have recognized for themselves the impact on Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination.

“I loved Nüdel Kart because I was really creative and you could experiment in lots of ways and you could develop your critical thing (sic) skills. I enjoyed all of it!!!!!”

“…it was really fun and I realised I was good at coming up with ideas for what my group could do to make our creations even better.”

“…after Nüdel Kart I found out I’m good at improvising. When I wanted to make a roller coaster but we only had two wheels I suggested to turn it into a lawn mower. It was lightweight and had a things bag for what we mowed. And we made a trampoline.”

“I enjoyed having the challenge of creating something. It was really cool, being able to work as a team and improvising when there’s limited time.”

References

Hopkins, D. and Craig, W. (n.d.) Curiosity and Powerful learning. McRel International, Australia. 

Munro, J. (n.d) Curiouser and Curiouser. McRel International, Australia. 

Sewell, C. Wilson, J. Laing, B. and Veerman, M. (2020) Nudel Kart Teachers Manual (2020)

Walker, Kathy. (2005) What’s the hurry? Australian Scholarships Group (np)

Thomas A. Edison https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/thomas_a_edison_125362

Ken Robinson https://www.diygenius.com/unconventional-quotes-about-curiosity-learning-and-education/

Edward de Bono https://www.diygenius.com/unconventional-quotes-about-curiosity-learning-and-education/

25 Mar
Loose Parts Play Kits
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By Jeni Wilson

A net is a veil, a stick is a crutch for an injured soldier… today that is. Tomorrow… who knows? The loose parts available during play provide students with limitless possibilities for invigorating play, stimulating imaginations and enhancing curiosity. In short, loose parts play kits can be used during play to learn about how the world works.

The benefits

One of the key benefits of loose parts play is the open-endedness and ability to be student-directed. They provide so many opportunities for construction and reconstruction, invention and reinvention. They encourage a range of play types and can match the child’s level of development. 

“Nüdel Kart provides the ultimate in loose parts play”.

Thinking skills and dispositions are triggered, as well as a number of other learning skills such as cooperative learning, problem solving, negotiation, conflict resolution and resilience. 

“Introducing simple, everyday objects during recess and lunchtime can cut sedentary behaviour by half, improve creativity and boost social and problems-solving skills” (Science Daily, 2016)

While fixed playgrounds and most toys may be intended for skill development during play, they are just that ‘fixed’. They will be the same next week as they are today and can have limited attraction.

Loose parts Kit

Teachers can develop their own loose parts kits. Many of the examples below can be collected from home.

Example materials for your Loose parts kit:

Natural resources and Found objectsmud, seed pods, bark
Building materialswood offcuts of all sized, simple tools, ropes, sandpaper, tubing
Scrap materialsold tyres, plastic pots
Soft materialsribbons, scarves, wool, fabrics
Household materialsfoam, bubble wrap, coathangers, cooking utensils, pegs, baskets, sieve, buckets

The Ultimate loose parts play kit

For the ultimate ready made and research based loose parts kit, that’s both compact, portable and doesn’t require power, the Nüdel Kart must be considered as an essential part of your loose parts suite.

Nüdel Kart is a mobile playground, a kart that comes apart into many different pieces, and is filled with loose parts that children can manipulate, build and play with. Nüdel Kart can be used in many settings, indoors and outdoors. It works across age groups from 3 yrs to 12 yrs and beyond, is not gender or culture specific and is highly supportive to people of all abilities.

Designed to meet world wide and whole child learning priorities, Nüdel Kart supports educational approaches that aim to develop skills increasingly in demand in our rapidly changing world in disciplines such as science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEaM).

The Nüdel Kart exploded into 200+ loose parts
The Nüdel Kart packed up

Loose parts play kits can help all children

For an average child in an average suburb in a developed country such as Australia, loose parts play super-charges the brain in all the skills essential for our complex lives. And for children living with toxic stress and daily anxiety about their future, Nüdel Kart, via loose parts play, creates an oasis of low stress, stimulating play as soon as possible after trauma. That space will help the child get back on the path of normal healthy development.

References

Sewell, C. Wilson, J. Laing, B. and Veerman, M. (2020) Nüdel Kart Teachers Manual (2020)

Wilson, J. and Wing Jan, L. Focus on Inquiry (second edition). Education Services Australia, Carlton South.

24 Mar
Children and the importance of Play based learning.
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By Jeni Wilson.

Play should be a fundamental part of learning. With rapidly changing technology and current health issues, direct social interactions have already been reducing. Anecdotally, teachers and parents frequently comment on children’s reduced ability to cooperate with others. They lack focus, empathy and resilience. They are simply not playing enough.

These capabilities and more, are essentially what children from all edges of the globe and across time learn from play.

So, the challenge for teachers is to harness and respect this intrinsic need of children to play, and treat play as a fundamental part of learning.

“The Case for Play and the impact of early play interventions”.

Check out the Nüdel Kart, a great solution for play based learning.

Things to remember about Play:

Play comes naturally
  • Children have the urge to play
  • Children need to play
  • Play is self-directed and intrinsically motivated
Play is learning
  • It promotes problem solving and problem posing;
  • Unlocks imagination and curiosity; and
  • Develops 21st century skills
Play is essential for wellbeing
  • It helps children process what’s happening in the world;
  • Is fun and safe; 
  • Can be therapeutic; and
  • Is fundamental to healthy development (Individuals and communities)

“The Evidence for Play”Explore the world’s best research on play, spanning the fields of economics, psychology, child development, education and neuroscience:

Incorporating play into classrooms can be thwarted by teachers feeling pressured by an overcrowded curriculum. And the result can be the temptation to try to overlay play with other structures and purposes. For example setting up structured learning tasks that students rotate through. 

But whilst the argument about children ‘not knowing what they don’t know’, or giving all children equal opportunities to experience everything might seem reasonable, corresponding structures can completely change the self-directed nature of play as children attempt to ‘get it right’.

Ironically these teacher structures could inhibit the skills and dispositions teachers are trying to achieve, such as developing focus, imagination, curiosity, collaboration and resilience.

Play Types

There are lots of ways to play. Hughes, ( 2002) suggests there are 16 different types of play. When deciding how to set up for play, consider the following possibilities. 

Types of PlayExamples of what children might be doing
Social PlayListening, talking, sharing, taking turns, playing games, making up rules, teaching friends.
Object PlayManipulating objects, building,  connecting, combining materials.
Imaginative PlayPretending and imagining. Creative role play.  Being a singer in a band, teacher, father with a newborn.
Creative PlayCreative expression. Painting, singing, designer, dancing, writing or drawing. 
Sensory PlayExploring smell, sight, sound, touch and feel. Feel the surfaces of different materials, create sound and colours.
Active PlayBeing active with your body. Jump between objects, dance, roll and slide.

(Table adapted from Sewell, C. Wilson, J. Laing, B. and Veerman, M. (2020) Nüdel Kart Teachers Manual.)

Playground Ideas supports anyone, anywhere to build a stimulating space for play, because children not only have the right to play, but it is imperative for their development, providing them with the opportunity to thrive.

But not everyone has easy access to play. Even in developed countries, the importance of play and play based learning for children is underestimated. Increasing urbanisation, over scheduling and lack of public green spaces are contributing factors. 

So Playground Ideas created the Nüdel Kart to help overcome some of these challenges. The Nüdel Kart is a mobile kart filled with loose parts that provides stimulating play for children anytime, anywhere. Nüdel Kart was designed fundamentally to encourage the highest forms of learning such as imagination, creativity, problem solving,  social skills. All through play based learning.

References

Lester, S. and Russell, W. 2010

Sewell, C. Wilson, J. Laing, B. and Veerman, M. (2020) Nüdel Kart Teachers Manual (2020)

Walker, Kathy. (2005) What’s the hurry? Australian Scholarships Group (np)