So, I’ve been battling over the last 4/5 weeks to integrate play based learning into the classroom. My big question now is how to tie in the 3 Rs with this, as I still have the obligation to get these NEs progressing through reading, writing and maths. The main breakthrough I’ve had is that all their writing comes from photos I’ve taken of their play that morning, they are always keen to stick their photo in and write a sentence about it. At this stage, they are focussing on a range of individual goals, varying from writing left to write, pen holding, finger spaces and using the first sound of a word. The challenge I’ve found now is how to integrate maths and reading into this. The reading programme by it’s nature is quite rigid anyway, but to try and get reading material that ties in with what they were playing that morning is challenging. They choose their own books from the levelled box I give them, but beyond that, choice is limited. Also with maths, I can find tenuous links to the play task that morning, i.e. if they’ve been playing with pirate toys, we can count and add the gold coins, etc. but it’s pretty limiting. Contrary to previous experience, the children are very engaged in writing, but not so much in reading and even less so in maths!

Because of this, I very much feel at risk of slipping back into a very timetabled structured day where maths, reading and writing happen when I say they happen, but I so desperately want to take more advantage of this rich learning I can see happening infront of my eyes during their play based time.

However, I feel all is not lost, as during this time of experimentation, I have focussed in on several questions to direct my experimentation:

  1. How do I integrate curriculum coverage into play based learning?
  2. How do I tie a rigid structured programme like reading into their play?
  3. Is it possible to teach the requirements of maths through ad-hoc opportunities throughout the day, instead of a formal maths session?
  4. How do I expand this learning into a larger class setting? I have the most incredible experience at present of having a class size of 6, so want to ensure that what I’m doing with 6, is transferrable and achievable with more.

In chatting with a Principal who is supporting her Junior Teaching staff with developing a play based programme, she mentioned they were calling it ‘Pataitai’ – which means to explore and discover. This is with the aim of getting away from negative connotations that ‘play’ might have at school. I’m in two minds over this – I WANT people/parents/community to know that PLAY is where children experience all this rich learning, so maybe I should stick with calling it play. Something to think about. But, on this train of thought, I came across this: that talks about Pataitai stations for exploring and discovery. I need to read it in more detail, but it doesn’t seem to be as ‘free’ as genuine free play, as stations are engineered carefully for the learning that is required. Another thing to explore.

My next steps are to take my questions and visit other schools who are running this kind of play based learning programme in their Junior areas and observe and have a good chat. I am organising for me and a group of other teachers to do so in the next couple of weeks.