Learning Through Play…

“I blog about my job as a happily married mum of 2, and about my job as a secondary school teacher. Often the two aren’t so very different.”

Whenever I sign up to blogging related websites, there is always the section that asks for a description of your blog. That is what I always write. I guess in some ways you could argue that as a qualified teacher, I have a degree in ‘learning’ but it’s not this that makes my 2 jobs so similar. My own children are 3 and 1 (nearly 4 and nearly 2, but we won’t split hairs!), whereas the children I teach are 11-16, but when it comes to learning, there are so many similarities:

  • Their brains are all like sponges. Children’s brains can’t help but learn. It’s just up to us to help guide them towards learning the right things
  • All children like a consistent approach to things with clear boundaries, guidelines and expectations
  • All children like a challenge and encouragement
  • The higher your expectation of children, the greater their determination is to succeed. If they feel they can do something, it’s more likely they will.

With all this in mind, it might sound like I’m trying to come across as some kind of expert, which I’m most definitely not. There is no degree in parenting, and there isn’t one right way, I just find that because of the studies I have done for my profession, I often approach areas of parenting in the same way (although I can assure you there are no mark schemes for my children’s artwork, and there is definitely no naughty step in my classroom!).

The focus of this post is learning through play, and it’s impossible not to have my teacher hat on at least some of the time when I’m writing it. Sometimes I have to try really hard to separate the teacher from the parent, but most of the time they complement each other really well.

One of my pet gripes as a teacher is when it’s nearing the end of term, and the students will come running across the playground to my classroom shouting “Miss, Miss, it’s our last lesson, can we have a fun lesson today?” This basically translates as “Miss, we all wish we’d already broken up for the holidays, so are you going to be a walkover and let us do sod all today?” My gritted teeth response to this is always the same: “Yes, of course we are going to have a fun lesson today.”

My popularity doesn’t usually last for long. As soon as I have a room full of 30 teenagers, eagerly waiting to see if I’ll be the coolest teacher by showing them an 18 certificate film, only to see their exercise books out on the table and an activity waiting to be completed, I prepare myself for the inevitable groan, and wait for them to get over it before continuing with my lesson (which usually is quite fun, to be fair – I teach music so it’s all pretty hands on)!

I do however have 2 lesson activities which stick out in my memory. A fundamental of teaching today, relies upon a teacher’s ability to identify before they plan their lesson, what it is the children in their class will learn by the end of their lesson. It is then their responsibility to plan activities in the lesson to ensure students are aware of this, and have a measurable way of assessing whether it has been achieved or not.

I had a Year 8 class (12-13 year olds), and I wanted to introduce them to the concept of chords. My husband, who is also a teacher suggested this activity originally but over the years I’ve modified it. When they came into my room, there were a whole list of foods displayed. They had to create three different menus from the foods. They were baffled but also intrigued as to why they were being asked to do this, but did it nonetheless. At the end of the activity, they were all discussing the idea that some of the menus worked well, others were a matter of taste, while some were wrong. Just wrong! While they were still discussing this, I began playing some different types of music, and before they had time to realise, we were bringing in musical theory and the concept of chords, and musical taste.

The other one that sticks in my mind was a Year 10 (first year of GCSE) class. They sat down, I loaded up YouTube, and began playing them some selected X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent auditions. With only a small amount of teacher input, my class had, within 25 minutes discussed what made a successful musical performance, and collaboratively created a set of assessment criteria very similar to the GCSE mark scheme. Off they they toddled to prepare for their own performances, confident in the knowledge of what was expected from them.

My lessons don’t always run this smoothly, but the key to the success of these both times? Two things: Engagement, and the fact that the students didn’t necessarily realise that what they were doing was ‘learning.’

I’m not going to mention my job again, as I’m confident that the Tots 100 Blog Hop was not anticipating talk of GCSE mark schemes, given that the prize includes a load of Mega Bloks (although I have to say they came in very handy for a lesson I did on musical structure…)!

When it comes to helping my own children learn, I’ve always tried to encourage them to find out things for themselves, rather than just telling them the answers to their questions outright. Encouraging them to think about things, form opinions etc. as ultimately they will remember more things by ‘doing.’ Don’t get me wrong, I would never knowingly risk them coming to any harm, but neither am I afraid of them getting a little scratch, if they will remember how they got it and therefore not make the same mistake again.

There are so many toys I could review here in an attempt to demonstrate how my children learn through play, when they are having fun, but are also picking up crucial skills. I could talk about the wonderful structures they’ve created with their Play Doh or their Duplo, or the valuable life lessons they’ve demonstrated when I’ve been sneaking a peak at them playing with their Little People toys, like the way my 1 year old son made his sister’s Fifi toy hold on to the handrail as he walked her down the stairs, as these are valuable experiences, and ones that have been very frequent in our home. But what about the times when they’re not holding someithng in their hand. Surely they don’t have to be holding an object for it to be called playing?

What about those endless games of ‘I Spy’ we’ve had in the car? Thanks to them, my 3 year old daughter can identify what letter of the alphabet most things we see begin with, while my 1 year old son, enjoys telling everyone what colour the things are.

What about the fact that my daughter absolutely loved saying Bonjour and Au Revoir to all the locals on our holiday to France last year? While I’d love to claim credit for this, I feel Delphine Donkey (Peppa Pig’s penpal) deserves it far more than me, not to mention the fact that we had to spend every travelling hour looking out of the window for her! What it has done though, is give my daughter a keen interest in learning more about the concept that we all live in different places and do different things. Like a beginners guide to culture!

I’ll end with this picture, which my daughter made at pre school and then had to talk about in circle time. Apparently it’s a very intelligent picture because of what she said, although I feel I may need to tell you what it is, as I wouldn’t say she’s a budding Picasso just yet!

We have a caterpillar at the bottom in blue, green and orange. It’s sitting at the bottom of the yellow and blue flower with the orange middle bit. Above and to the right, we can see the caterpillar has changed into a butterfly (using the same colours as the caterpillar). We have a sun in the sky too, shining down on the flower, so that it can make food to help the caterpillar get big and be able to turn into a beautiful butterfly. Her preschool were very impressed that she was able to draw a picture and pretty much explain the concept of photosynthesis, aged 3!

I can assure you that teacher or not, I have not explained this process to my daughter, and I think it’s at this point that being a teacher does go out of the window. If I’d turned up at pre school and my daughter had given me this picture claiming it was a picture of me, it would have still had pride of place on the fridge!

Why don’t you go over to the Blog Hop on the Tots 100 website and check out the rest of the examples of ‘Learning Through Play.’ Thank you for stopping by here!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. woodworking patterns
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 14:12:27

    my views on this topic differ from you.its good that you brought this up on your blog,it was a nice controversial read.


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