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How play-based learning can give young children skills for life

All work and no play, the saying goes, makes Jack a dull boy. And there may be more truth in that than previously thought, according to Richard Bullard, headteacher at Combe Down Primary School in Bath.

Bullard was converted to the possibilities of play by a trip to the Czech Republic, where, he says, the early-years provision was “delightful”.

He says that the Czechs, along with other Eastern European cultures, “allow their young children to be just that. These children play, dress up, help around the nursery, get out and about and are encouraged to be independent. Mollycoddling? Pah. Babies and toddlers are left to have their naps outside in pretty much all weathers.”

This early independence sets children up, Bullard says, with skills for life. He adds that his subsequent decision to implement more play-based learning at Combe Down was “music to the ears” of the early-years leader.

So does a play-based culture mean that chaos is the order of the day? No, says Bullard. “Learning through play doesn’t just mean going off and messing about. There are times every day when the children will be doing phonics, maths, reading and writing, as well as learning through structured (and unstructured) play. It doesn’t just happen either. It involves considerable input from early years practitioners.”

And, when the inspector calls, Bullard stresses the importance of being able to provide evidence that pupils can achieve while playing and exploring to convince Ofsted that it’s a building block to effective learning. “Equally important is children’s disposition towards learning, which practitioners should be able to comment on, and the enrichment opportunities learning experiences provide.”

For the full story, get the 27 March edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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