A place to share ideas about play in a Prep classroom

I recently had the honour of participating in my alumni’s annual Jean Ferguson Memorial Lecture on the topic of Prep….. preparation for what? The format for the lecture involved a panel discussion with each panelist speaking for 12 minutes. I was disappointed in my contribution for a variety of reasons but mainly because, as usual, I had a lot to say and found it difficult to edit my discussion down to the time allocated.

So over the next few days, I will post my full and unedited discussion paper to share with those who are interested.  My research was wide and varied and at times I was unable to verify the original source. *My apologies to the people concerned and please let me know so I can recognise you appropriately.

Prep…….. preparation for what?

I love to have fun and I love to read, and whilst preparing for tonight I have spent a lot of time reading and researching on the internet as well as having fun, drinking coffee and talking about tonight’s topic Prep……. preparation for what? with friends and colleagues.

The great philosopher Dr. Suess wrote –

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Now reading, particularly on the internet can lead you to all sorts of places. You know how it is, you read one article or piece of research and it leads you to another and then another, and then another and some of the current research I was reading was very confronting particularly when I linked it back to what is currently happening, not just in Prep but in many schools and classrooms around Australia.

Now after doing all this reading and then, writing and shaping my talk, my laptop crashed and I lost almost everything, which at the time seemed like the absolute worst thing that could have happened but upon reflection it was probably the best thing that could have happened because I did even more reading and so tonight’s talk is quite different to the original. The reason for that being is, in the original one I was, as I said before, shaping my talk and using research that matched my own and probably most people’s beliefs here in the room and I was ignoring the elephants. Elephants you’re all thinking. What elephants? I’m talking about the big things in a room that people don’t want to talk about. Those elephants!

So let’s get started. Firstly I’d just like to say that just like many of you I am passionate about play and in particular playing in prep so I feel like I’m talking to the converted but with the introduction of the Australian Curriculum and in particular the C2C this year, play as a context for learning has for many prep teachers and their children almost disappeared from their classrooms and I think why this has happened is the reason tonight’s topic is such an important question to raise. What exactly are we preparing our children for?

When prep was first introduced I saw an opportunity. An opportunity to work with children 5 days a week, with time for continuity of learning, allowing children to fully explore and investigate their ideas and interests through creative and inquiry based play whilst also gently transitioning them into the school environment. We had time to develop their learning to learn skills, teach them social skills and encourage their emotional development so that they were ready for the more formal environment of Year one.

The children felt empowered and were intrinsically motivated to learn because they were actively involved in planning their learning. They were viewed and more importantly, viewed themselves, as competent and capable learners. It was like we were in Preptopia. A place that was safe and supportive, where it was OK to make a mistake and try again, where children learnt to communicate and work together, where being an individual as well as a member of a group is valued, where teaching and learning involved shared conversations, collaboration and decision making and there were strong partnerships between all stakeholders. Preptopia was a place that valued children and their childhood and backing up Preptopia’s culture was the Early Years Curriculum Guidelines (EYCG). A document informed by theorists such as my good old friend Piaget who I first met long ago in my BKTC days and Vygotsky with his constructivist approach to learning. Written for Education Qld. this was, and still is an inspiring document. It recognised, validated and more importantly placed into government policy, the importance of play as a context for learning in the early years.

Rather than a content approach, it’s philosophical and pedagogical approach to learning allayed the fears of many that  prep would be too prescriptive and have a one size fits all approach. The EYCG meant that anything and everything was possible and again, in the words of that great philosopher Dr Suess –

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That is exactly what we did. We aimed for the sky and flew as high as we could go. We explored the galaxy whilst delivering underpants to aliens, sailed the oceans as pirates and learnt about what true treasure can be,  performed in our own circus, designed and created our own fashion parade and last year I was fortunate enough to preside over a wedding in our prep castle, 4 knights in shining armour married 4 brides dressed in designer plastic bag dresses with everyone in the class having a role to play in both the preparations and the wedding itself. We have also chased Gingerbread men all over the school, enrolled in Hogwarts to learn magic spells and play Prep Quiddich, investigated and designed racing tracks and cars, built dinosaur museums and art galleries following real life experiences and all whilst covering the 15 learning statements.

The list of our adventures goes on and on but what are they actually learning? Where is the proof that this is no more than just a bit of fun! How can playing pirates, building castles, having weddings, putting on a circus be educational? How can this be preparing our young children for anything? Shouldn’t they be learning to read and write? What about numeracy?

These are questions that prep teachers are asked all the time and the simple and I stress the word simple, answer is this……. we are instilling in them a love of learning.

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We are teaching them skills that they will use their whole life. Yes we are teaching them literacy and numeracy skills but they are woven throughout the play and are being taught in a way that is meaningful and engaging to the children.

We are encouraging them to be creative and imaginative, qualities essential to problem solving and valued by many of the greatest thinkers of all time including Albert Einstein who said

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And of course there is also Sir Ken Robinson who goes even further and states

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I think they both would probably approve of Preptopia.

In 1988 Robert Fulgram wrote a short essay called All I Really Need to Know I Learnt in Kindergarten. He wrote that “wisdom was not learnt at the top of the graduate school mountain but there in the sandpit at Nursery school.  I learnt how to live and what to do and how to be  in kindergarten.”

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It may be dated but the essence of the essay still holds true. In Preptopia we were preparing them not just for school but for life and this is one answer to tonight’s question. We are preparing them for life and instilling in them a love of learning.

Over the next few days I will share the next part of my discussion paper which addresses the topic further.

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