By Abbas Jaffer
I am delighted to share a guest blog post written by my colleague and year group partner Abbas Jaffer, who works at Central Primary as a Year 1 teacher and KS1 leader.
If I had a penny for every time I’d heard this, I’d have £1.48. At least. It is not so much the sentence that gets me, but the intonation with which it is said, often by people who mean well.
Firstly, play should never be under-estimated. It is the most powerful vehicle and catalyst that we have as teachers and parents to expand our children’s minds. When children are playing, they don’t realise they are learning. This helps them to truly engage in the learning. Secondly, as well as ‘play’, the children also learn to read and write, solve complex maths problems, eat communally, paint, create, imagine, draw, investigate and explore the world around them.
Whilst I won’t go into it now, there is much research into the benefits of learning through play, which is known as ‘child-initiated learning’ (CIL for short). This is not the children teaching themselves, but them choosing from activities that adults have carefully considered and planned, based on the children’s interests. Adults are crucial in making this work. In fact, they are the difference in transforming “just play” into “outstanding learning”.
As you can probably tell, I am a firm believer in child-initiated learning. This is down to the 3 years I spent in Reception, working alongside some of the most diligent and extraordinary teachers you could hope to meet. I saw and was a part of outstanding CIL. However, most Year 1 settings do not continue with it, which can be a huge shock to children who had been getting over 2 hours of CIL a day.
This said, with me being in Year 1 this year, I wanted the children to continue learning through exploration, by following their interests. However, after a few weeks of trialling CIL in Year 1 as it was working in Reception, I realised that I cannot just replicate Reception-style CIL in Year 1. It just does not work, for several reasons: smaller classroom sizes, less adults, raised expectations, a broader curriculum, children being that much older, and basically having too much to do and not enough time to do it.
This is where (after a bit of trial-and-improvement) the idea of Project Time was born. The afternoons in our Year 1 classrooms are now split into two Project Times. The first is similar to a typical lesson and the second is similar to child-initiated learning. Both of these are centred around a weekly theme (so far we have had ‘The UK’, ‘Kings & Queens’, ‘Light and Dark’ and ‘The Gingerbread Man’). During the first session, the children have a lesson, then do an activity in their books or sometimes a more practical activity, which prepares them for the even higher expectations of Year 2. The second session of Project time enables them to explore a variety of activities, which cover a range of curriculum areas. This enables them to continue what had been and should be an integral part of their education. In this way, Year 1 becomes the stepping stone from Reception to Year 2.
We live in a world where children are growing up too quickly and under a government that is increasing expectations year on year. However, when all is said and done, we must remember that they are just children. And if they want to “just play”, then let them. But do it well.