Blog

24 Mar
Children and the importance of Play based learning.
Posted by client_admin

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)

24 Mar
Student Voice and Student Agency
Posted by client_admin
By Dr Jeni Wilson

Student voice and student agency are most certainly the buzz words and school priorities for 2020 and beyond. Defined differently by different people and sometimes used interchangeably they are intrinsically linked and undeniably pivotal to creating student centred classrooms and student directed learning.

So what does Student Voice and Student Agency mean?

Student voice and student agency are all about empowering students to be meaningfully engaged in decision making about student learning including processes related to learning.

And it’s about being listened to and being heard, where student opinions matter and have an impact.

Because all students can take responsibility for their own learning and be self-regulated and developing student voice and agency is equally applicable for all students.

Whilst you can’t teach student agency, there are tools that can assist. The Nüdel Kart was specifically designed for child led learning.

Student Voice is not:

  • Students sitting in a circle where some speak up and others don’t
  • Just giving students a couple of choices 
  • Students always getting their own way
  • Noisy students having all the say
  • Students just doing what they like
  • Teachers losing their power
  • A few students being on school committees

So, when students are empowered with the responsibility to voice their opinions, make decisions and solve problems for themselves, they develop a broad range of independent learning and leadership skills, develop confidence, and are more likely to be engaged. And this engagement ultimately leads to achievement. Because engaged, self-regulated learning is important for our children as learners, now and in the future.

Making authentic decisions with teachers about what and how they learn and how they are assessed, leads to improved educational outcomes’ (Amplify, 2019)

Leadbeater’s (2017) call for action reminds us that developing student voice and agency is not just another day at the office. 

‘If education is to develop young people as capable agents, it can no longer rely on learning by routine. It needs to take people wider, deeper and further, to give them the experiences of what it is like to take action, to make things, to serve the community, to work with others and to take on the challenges that might once have daunted them

The following two examples from each end of primary education offer alternatives to traditional schooling enabling student voice and agency.

Example One – Moonee Ponds West (grade 1/2) Free Play with Nüdel Kart

Play was guided only by safety instructions. 

Student quotes 

“I was proud of what I did. I wanted to do something really big. It was really hard but it was fun.”

“You can make whatever you want. If you didn’t want to make something you didn’t have to. You can go deep, deep into your 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 enjoy all of it!!!!!”

Teacher comments

“The children took most of the initiative.”

“It’s taking us back to old school equipment, with just your imagination to lead you.” 

This free play opportunity demonstrated that even young students can and do:

  • Ask questions of others
  • Give feedback to their peers
  • Seek feedback from others to improve their own learning
  • Challenge others’ ideas
  • Feel confident
  • Use their imagination
  • Share ideas and materials
  • Cooperate and collaborate with others
  • Take responsibility for their own actions
  • Use a range of thinking skills and dispositions
  • Set their own goals
  • Make their own decisions
  • Take risks and show initiative
  • Solve their own problems
  • ….and so much more

What’s a Nüdel Kart?

Nüdel Kart is a deconstructable, mobile play kart that comes apart into many different pieces, and is filled with loose parts to encourage self-directed learning.

It contains researched backed specially selected materials to stimulate children’s development.

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.

Children and self directed learning using a Nüdel Kart
Example Two – Watsonia North Primary (grade 5/6) – Developing their own study timetables
Student Quotes:

“I got way more work done.”
“I had to make an effort.”
“It was good to regulate my standard of work.”
“This is real life.”
“It was less stressful getting help without stopping others and you weren’t held up by others.”
“People were focussed, not mucking around.”

Want to know more about the Nüdel Kart?

References

Victorian Department of Education and Training. (2019). Amplify. Empowering students through voice, agency and leadership.

Leadbeater, C. (2017). Student agency: Learning to make a difference. Seminar Series. 269, Centre for Strategic Education.

Murdoch, K. and Wilson, J. (2004) Learning Links. Curriculum Corporation, Carlton South.

Quaglia, R and Corso, M. Student Voice. 2014. The Instrument of Change. Corwin, California.

Wilson, J. (2013) Activate Inquiry. Education Services Australia, Carlton South

5 Dec
Play Poverty: 43 Reasons We Must Fight It
Posted by Joanna Francis

By Neve Spicer

Play involves imagination, creativity, and innovation. For young people, it is both fun and essential. They need play in order to flex, stretch, and grow their muscles; not only their physical ones, but also the emotional, cognitive, and imaginative muscles of their minds.

But here’s the thing…

We are seeing a global increase in play poverty. Too many children are bereft of time and opportunity to play.

We see this in developing countries where there is little to no investment in play infrastructure (ie, no playgrounds in schools or community areas), but we also see it in wealthy countries where the culture views play as disposable; a non-essential distraction from more serious academic activities. This occurs in kindergarten, in elementary school, and in high school, where recess time is routinely dropped. Even after school, when children once played, many parents are arranging extra classes and organized activities instead.

Sir Ken Robinson, an expert in child education and the man behind TEDs most watched talk, describes this situation as “a disaster“.

In case you are in any doubt about how important it is that we fight play poverty, here are 43 science-backed benefits that playtime brings our children:

So what can we do to fight play poverty?

We can support communities around the world who lack resources, to design and build imaginative playgrounds using local materials and labor. We can also encourage a move away from rote learning to pedagogical best practice, including play based learning. 

In our schools, we can make the case for play. Let’s get our voices heard in a bid to affect both local school policy and national education policy. Play shouldn’t be seen an a non-essential luxury. It must be viewed as vital and necessary to our children’s wellbeing and healthy growth, on every level.

At home, we can prioritize play in our child’s day and week. While enrolling our kids in a selection of extracurricular activities can be enriching, it’s important to balance this with plenty of time for free play; that is, the unstructured, self-directed play that children get up to when adults and screens take a back seat.

Let’s always remember: play is healthy, play is fun, and play is cathartic. Let’s protect and promote it as the birthright of every child.

Neve Spicer
Founder & Director
WeTheParents.org

Play Poverty: 43 Reasons We Must Fight It
21 Aug
10 Favourite Natural Playground Elements
Posted by Joanna Francis

We think that natural elements should be a key part of any playground, not just an afterthought. It pays to start by creating a natural ‘canvas’, defining the main pathways where people will transition through the site (‘desire’ lines) and then create natural elements around that. Think about this from the start and then design your play elements around the natural elements, rather than the other way around. Today in the final post of our series, we’re sharing 10 of our favourite natural playground elements that are low cost, easy to install and that will help bring some green to your kids’ play space.

1. Hills. All hills require is clean fill. You can get it from your own garden, or stop trucks going past and save it from going to landfill. All soil is a mixture of things… silt, clay, sand etc. A good way to check for what it is, is it to take a small handful and put it in a glass jar, fill it with water and shake until dissolved and if it’s really sandy, it will sink to bottom and the water will be fairly clear. If it’s got too much clay, the water will be really murky and if it’s silty it will be somewhere in between. So you may need to adjust the content, ie. if it’s got too much clay you may need to cap the hill with some kind of sand or soil or mulch so it doesn’t slide. Top soil is the best! It’s good to cordon off sections of the hills, plant a variety of plants and define some pathways. Help stop erosion with sand, gravel, rocks, logs etc to help that part of the slope together.

 

2. Sand. Every child has a natural affinity with sand. It’s the original loose parts playground. It doesn’t dry out like play-dough or paint, it doesn’t go hard and need re-hydrating like clay. Yes, it gets stuck in your shoes and your pockets but it comes cleanly off your skin and you can spend the whole lunchtime playing in it and it doesn’t stress out the teacher. The properties of sand are miraculous. Good sand can be poured through a funnel and will run like a liquid, but add some clean water and you can build roads and tunnels and castles. And the best part is, tomorrow you can do something completely different. Here at Playground Ideas, sandpits are the one element that we think every playground should have.

 

3. Trees are a fantastic addition to any playground. Not only do they look great, but they can be climbed, they provide shade and also add loose parts that kids can then play with, such as sticks, seed pods, leaves etc. They also bring worms, butterflies, insects to the playground and can also form the structure of built elements such as swing frames, tree houses etc. Try and incorporate existing trees into the design of the playground, or research native trees in your area and plant your own.

4. Flowers and vegetables. Another great addition to any playground and one that can help facilitate children’s understanding and love of gardening. Why not get the kids involved in planting flowers, herbs and vegetables that they can then pick and eat? We love creating bean teepees and so do the kids! The sensory experience of smelling herbs, seeing the bright colours of flowers and picking beans or sweet peas is perfect for all children, but particularly tactile toddlers.

5. Screening plants are any plants that will grow up and obstruct ground level to around 2m high vision. Some will be tall, skinny plants (eg. bamboo) some will be busy and wide and are great for creating mazes, circular, enclosed quiet spaces, pathways and colonnades that can stop traffic from certain directions, therefore protecting areas from unwanted foot traffic. Depending on where you are in the world, and the time of day, screening plants can provide fantastic shade and protection from early morning and late afternoon hot sun.

6. Round logs and stumps for stepping stones. Kids naturally love jumping between stepping stones and round logs or stumps are great for this. They can form the boundary of a sandpit or be placed throughout a playground as a kind of pathway.

7. Climbers using logs and sticks. If you’ve got large, smooth logs or branches, why not try creating a climber out of them that kids can clamber up, jump off and create games on, such as this one that we created in PNG a few years ago.

8. Rocks/ stones. A lot of people think rocks are dangerous in playgrounds because of their hard material but this is not true at all. They’re great because their surface is “grippy” and once in place, it will be there for a long time to come. Finding smooth rocks that have been pummeled in rivers or beaches is often not hard and even if sharp quarried stones is all you can find, you can often use a grinder and a sledgehammer to crack off and shape the edges. So that at least the surface that’s on top is not sharp. One thing to be careful of is that most elements above 600mm from the ground surface or forced movement elements (see-saws, slides) need a 1.5-2m safe fall zone and so rocks need to be outside of this area. (nb. Swings have their own safe fall zone that are larger). One of the simplest ways to use rocks is as stepping stones, and an extension of this is stepping stones that gradually get further away from each other. Rocks also make perfect steps up an incline, to the top of a hill or a hillslide for eg. Larger rocks are the perfect edging for a sandpit. Using masonry tools or a stone grinder blade, you can etch pathways, board games, roads, or water channels into the surface of stones.

9. Water. Water and children go together like bacon and eggs. One of our favourite pieces of parenting advice that has served us well is, “when kids are grumpy or having a bad day, just add water”. Water can be added into playgrounds by adding loose parts water elements such as a water play tub with funnels and cups, creating a channel that water can be poured into and a pump added, or why not create our Sand and water table, made from recycled tires.

10. Found and seasonal natural materials, such as seed pods, wild flowers and leaves. These may come from trees or plants that are in the playground or can be collected from elsewhere and included in a box or designated area. Kids are naturally creative at taking objects that us adults easily look over, and turning them into games or play items. Pebbles become marbles, long sticks become a teepee, large leaves from a plane tree become a bed for little seed pod people. Collect what you can find, and let their imaginations run wild.

Please help us to continue creating and sharing free resources, so that you and others all over the world can keep creating awesome play spaces for kids!

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