Opinion: Taking play seriously

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There's still a lot to learn about play, says Pat Broadhead.

Last month, as chair of TACTYC, I joined a small group of colleagues and play researchers to meet politicians, policy makers and interested organisations in the House of Commons. Our focus was 'Playful learning in educational settings'. Our findings were drawn from a play research, two-day seminar that had been held at LeedsMet in April. A digest of the findings was available to delegates and you can get a copy on the TACTYC website. We were pleased it was a well-attended event and that such discussion was going on in those hallowed halls.

England was once at the forefront of cutting-edge practice in playful learning, but that legacy has been lost in the last 20 years. This is in part because of the rise of teacher-directed activity in response to a prescribed and narrow curriculum. But this loss of heritage has also resulted from the lack of funded research around playful learning in educational settings. Basically, we don't really know a lot about how children learn through play or what they learn and, as a result, we don't have a language or clear frameworks for discussing playful learning.

We aimed to illustrate what kinds of problems children solve when they are playing; how competent children are as risk-takers and how this extends playful learning; how children resolve conflicts in play without adult intervention; why rough-and-tumble supports learning; how the social interactions of play provide opportunities for intellectual development; and how independent learning is more evident in playful environments where children can make choices.

Our findings also related to the adult's role as 'playful pedagogue'. Several studies highlight the importance of extended observations and team-based discussions in acknowledging children's interests and planning accordingly; of what a flexible response to children's interests can look like in the settings of playful pedagogues; how the narratives and play-lives of home and school can be brought together by playful pedagogues. We also highlighted what kinds of diverse play-styles children adopt and how children's cultural heritages impact on their playful learning experiences. Plenty to do!

- Pat Broadhead is Professor of Playful Learning, Leeds Metropolitan University and chair of TACTYC (www.tactyc.org.uk)

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