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Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Play is not just for infants

Do you and your class want to go back in time? You need to speak nicely to foundation stage and nursery staff. Tell them how excited their pupils would be to spend time in a grown-up classroom. If you work in a junior or middle school, I would say this was worth the phone calls and the walk. No matter how old your children are, watch the worries and years melt away as you all regress into learning-through-play wonderland.

I was walking around delivering messages, as you do in the hour before school, and one of the foundation teachers was putting out a magnetic fishing game. I was doing magnetism with my Year 34 class that afternoon, so I asked if I could borrow it. Then I paused to enquire, "You haven't got anything else magnetic, have you?" Out came the building blocks, the hanging monkey game, the racing game, fridge magnets, magnetic letters and numbers... just loads! As I collected things together, I looked around the room and saw resources that would support almost every topic I taught, right across the curriculum, from the role-play corner to the sand and water play.

We had an absolute blast that afternoon. The toys and games provided every context for the discussions we needed to have. As pupils explained how the games worked, they found the need for all the vocabulary I wanted to introduce. I began to think how cool it would be if I could deliver the key stage 2 curriculum in a foundation classroom and then realised, for at least some of the time, I could! Now I keep my eyes open to see who is doing PE or games, or out on a trip - or who might feel like swapping classrooms for a while.

Sometimes our explorations or activities have a clear focus. We might use the giant floor-puzzle maps in geography or the wealth of painting equipment for art. I have discovered there are more plastic sheets in one foundation classroom than in the rest of the school put together. Sometimes I tell pupils they can play with or use a toy or game as long as they can explain to me how it works. Articulating the science behind a toy or the rules of a game pays obvious dividends, as does explaining why things float or sink, or why sand filters through a sieve.

Of course, there is another reason why this is a great thing to do and it has nothing to do with all the educational benefits that are plain to see.

As a Year 6 pupil uses both hands to march the elephants onto Noah's Ark, you remember that despite all their "cool", these are just kids. The memories and anecdotes about "the old days" come rolling out. What's more, as you stand there and listen, you can push your way in and play with the Lego.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester


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