Primary school teacher Emma Graddon-Sims tells us why we should never underestimate the value of play
“Well it doesn’t matter anyway, all they do is play all day.” A parent of one of my early years pupils said this to me during a recent parents’ evening at the school where I teach. I was explaining the fantastic progress their child was making in school. But these words are depressingly familiar.
Play is integral to the Early Years curriculum. To many parents the word can sound aimless and meaningless. And yet for children, play is hard work; it is discovery, testing, evaluating, negotiating, experimentation, courage and independence.
Play-based activities are planned by Reception teachers to challenge and extend children’s learning. We might read Going on a Bear Hunt and experiment with movement in a PE lesson, we plot the route on a map, we act out the story and use different voices, we think about how the bear might feel, we write notes to him. It is undeniably fun, but children put an awful lot of hard work into these activities. It’s never ‘just play.’
A lot of parents ask us what we get up to all day, because when they ask their children how their day was, the answer is often ‘I just played.’
Sometimes it’s a simple case of changing the question. Instead of asking an open-ended question like ‘how was your day?’, more specific questions will often get more satisfying answers. Questions such as:
What was the best thing about your day?
Did anything interesting happen?
What did you eat at lunch time?
What did you play at play time?
What didn’t you enjoy about the day?
Tell me something new you learnt today?
These questions help scaffold your child’s language and are great for gaining an insight into their day.
I know this only because my eldest started nursery last year and I got a taste of being on the other side of the school gates. I must admit, I did not like it one bit at first. I felt I lost all insight into my child’s day and found it very hard to let go.
I would feel utterly guilt ridden that he had been away from me all day; I would attempt to shower him with questions and chat, cuddles and attention. It took my husband to point out that he needed the very opposite – he was in fact exhausted after a hard day’s playing. He needed a chance to rest and reset.
So, now we get home and he relaxes on the sofa with a good dose of Cbeebies, a snack and a drink. We sit quietly then slowly but surely the news from his day will come out. It is at this point that I ask what was exciting (playing with the water) what he had for lunch (his favourite sandwich) or what hadn’t he enjoyed (coming home!)
Alexis from 100 Toys has written some fantastic articles on preparing your child for school and so many of them will continue to apply throughout their school lives. As a former teacher, I really did love it when parents would approach me in the mornings or afternoons for a chat. More so than any other year, in Reception the relationship between home and school is vital. Your child’s teacher is there to support the entire family, if there is ever an issue or a worry they will be there to help.
Don’t underestimate the value of simply chatting to your child – I remember I had one little boy who used to come in and tell what temperature his mummy’s car was each morning. We’d talk about the numbers, how the weather or the season affected the temperature and it was amazing to see him so engaged, that he wanted to come and tell me each morning.
I had another pupil who just loved to set the table in the role play area, and when I mentioned it to his parents he was allowed to do it each night at home. School and home worked together to propel these children’s learning and to encourage their interests.
Just please, someone remind me of all this next year when I am that nervous mum outside the school gate, wringing her hands and wondering what her child did all day.