If it's P1, it's play school

Theformal approach to learning and teaching infants must make way for more fun and an activity-based curriculum

Active learning through play will be central to building A Curriculum for Excellence in the pre-school and early primary stages. Current P1 teaching styles can prove "damaging" to pupils, according to the latest ACfE document, Building the Curriculum 2.

It states that there must be a more active approach to learning and teaching in early primary, building on pre-school work. A more formal approach to reading and writing should be introduced only when staff feel that children are ready to benefit.

"Each child, each group of children and, indeed, each day might demand fresh thinking," the report states. "Different curriculum areas offer different opportunities, but the emphasis on active learning applies to them all."

The report debunks the more formal approach to learning and teaching which, it says, has become prevalent in early primary, "perhaps due to schools'

response to an increasingly crowded curriculum. There is no long-term advantage to children when there is an over-emphasis on systematic teaching before six or seven years of age".

Early intervention in literacy and numeracy is acknowledged to have raised attainment. But concerns are expressed about "growing pressure on some children" and that "play and self-directed activity are perceived to be less valued in the early years of primary school".

The report describes how, in pre-school settings, staff often balance short periods of teaching with longer periods where children learn through play, either initiated by the child or through experiences planned by staff.

By contrast, in P1 there is a stronger emphasis on teaching, with children sitting and listening for longer periods, and working on activities such as writing and reading. "There are fewer opportunities for them to talk to adults and sometimes to other children, and adult support is more limited,"

the report states. "Too often, completing and colouring worksheets feature prominently."

The contrasting approaches between pre-school and P1 often provide "an abrupt transition for children which can prove damaging for some children's confidence and progress".

The approach to the P1 day will have to change, the reformers say, if there is to be more continuity with the pre-school stage. That will include deciding when teaching is the most appropriate way of promoting learning, bringing in parents and classroom assistants to support active learning through play, and balancing the development of reading and writing with oral language skills.

Active learning, defined as "learning which engages and challenges children's thinking using real life and imaginary situations", should involve spontaneous or planned play, investigating and exploring, and children's experiences - as well as more focused learning and teaching.

All these should be supported when necessary through sensitive intervention to support or extend learning. "All areas of the curriculum can be enriched and developed through play," it states.

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