Let’s stop “play” being a dirty word in the classroom!

I have been a advocate of structured play based learning in the classroom for many years, in both the EYFS and beyond. So imagine when I heard this recently…

“In Reception they just play. Children in Year One have to be doing more formal, focused work.”

Hold on…! Stop the bus a minute…!

Just playing? Just playing? What does that mean? When I heard these words I honestly thought I may need a few hours just to unpick it… and do you know I’ve been thinking about the words ever since! I think that for many teachers and members of senior leadership teams, the belief, however well meaning, is that Reception (and Nursery!) is seen as a place where children go to “get ready for real learning”, but in truth it is so much more than this!

Play based learning is so much more than “just play”

Play is fundamental to good quality learning for children in the EYFS (well all children, but that’s a discussion for another day!) It is not a “filler” or an “extra” for when the real learning is done, but a key tool to enable children to develop vital skills and rehearse these in a low pressure and familiar context.

“1.14 This framework does not prescribe a particular
teaching approach. Play is essential for children’s
development , building their confidence as they learn to
explore, relate to others, set their own goals and solve
problems. Children learn by leading their own play,
and by taking part in play which is guided by

The Statutory Framework for EYFS, 2021

We need to decide how our children learn best and then share this knowledge with others in order to raise the profile of play based learning and it’s benefits within our classrooms.

How can we raise the profile of play based learning?

Particularly if you work in a primary school, you will know that often (not always!) play is a very undervalued concept and seems to take a back seat, especially when we should be “preparing children for Year One”. I would love to flip the tables and say “let’s make Year One ready for the children”!

One way that we can help others understand play and its value is through ensuring that our Continuous Provision is high quality and planned carefully to meet children’s needs and ensure that it provides challenge whilst an adult is not present.

The CP Plans I have developed allow you to fully explore the skills being used in each area of the provision and think about how you resource and interact to really drive learning forward. They can be purchased by using the button below.

It is really key to also remember that CP needs to work for you and you need to also consider how you will enhance it effectively. Check out the CP blog post here for some ideas…

https://isittimetoplay.co.uk/continuous-provision/(opens in a new tab)

There is of course a balance to be struck… I agree absolutely with Julian Grenier, 2021 (Preparing for the revised EYFS: Questions and Thoughts) who said “All children need certain experiences and teaching to become secure in key concepts”, and there needs to be a balance of adult directed teaching and activities to ensure we expose children to the key knowledge and skills to support their progression through education. However, to me this doesn’t mean 20 minutes of carpet time, but instead could be through the interactions had, enhancements to areas of provision or short focused but play based activities.

“333.Teaching should not be taken to imply a ‘top down’ or formal way of
working. It is a broad term that covers the many different ways in which adults
help young children learn. It includes their interactions with children during
planned and child initiated play and activities, communicating and modelling
language, showing, explaining, demonstrating, exploring ideas, encouraging,
questioning, recalling, providing a narrative for what they are doing, facilitating
and setting challenges.
It takes account of the equipment that adults provide and the attention given to
the physical environment, as well as the structure and routines of the day that
establish expectations. Integral to teaching is how practitioners assess what
children know, understand and can do, as well as taking account of their interests
and dispositions to learn and how practitioners use this information to plan children’s next steps in learning and to monitor their progress.”

School Inspection Handbook, Ofsted, Updated September 2021

“Year 1 need to be doing more formal work”

Many of the children in Year One are 5 years old- 5!! They want to dig for worms, build castles and dress up as dragons… and why not? Why can’t we make learning fun for them too? The National Curriculum, 2014 is defined as “a set of subjects and standards used by primary and secondary schools so children learn the same things. It covers what subjects are taught and the standards children should reach in each subject”. Nowhere does that say how children should be taught or how they should learn and make progress. Children in Year 1 still need an exploratory and practical base for learning, with an opportunity to rehearse and refine their skills through play. It is also key to remember that for children currently in years one and two they have not yet had a full and uninterrupted year at school, therefore play is more important than ever, particularly for consolidating communication, emotional and social skills.

I believe that with well planned and appropriate continuous provision key stage one can be far more child initiated without compromising on progress.

Planning for Play

I am an advocate of play in EYFS (and Key Stage One). However, I also believe in a need for a balance of play based activities, ranging from free flow fully child initiated play to adult directed play activities.

The planning banks I provide on the website are designed to help Early Year Practitioners and Teachers to set up planned enhancements, focus activities and guided play opportunities. This flexible approach enables you to decide what works best for your children and supports you by lightening your planning workload.

With all that said your classroom ethos and your pedagogical approach is yours alone. You know what works best in your settings for the children, for you and for your management teams and as I’ve heard so much recently “You do you!”

I’ll be back soon with some more blog posts I have pencilled in by request from some lovely followers, including planning in reception and nursery, an assessment update and an update on the revised EYFS 2021. In the meantime please message with any questions, comments or feedback- I love to hear from you and if you haven’t already sign up to my newsletter (I promise I don’t send lots of spam- just some relevant updates of what I have available :D) here- http://eepurl.com/hwO-kj

As always, look after yourself,

Emma xx