Play – the conversation for learning

Play is the creative expression of children’s thoughts and ideas.  Play can begin a conversation for learning as learning becomes visible. In their play, children explore and investigate materials, represent their thinking processes and transfer their knowledge across settings.

I have recently been reading “Children’s imagination:Creativity under our noses,” by Ursula Kolbe (2014.) This has sparked a reflection of my own teaching practices and how to support children’s creativity through  play, providing a solid foundation for life long learning.

“Being aware that play is a source of wonderful possibilities, which only become apparent once play has begun, can lead you to fascinating discoveries.” (Kolbe, 2014, p 68.)

Recently in a loose parts experience at St Luke’s CELC, a small group of children were engaged in loose parts play with a selection of natural materials. The children explored the physical characteristics of stones, leaves and sticks whilst creating their own patterns outside on a mat.

There was rich learning experiences throughout this play. This was observed in the children’s discussions about the characteristics of the natural materials including their size, shape and colour.   As well as in the children’s explorations which lead to the creation of some interesting patterns which included a pattern to represent a snail, and another to represent a letter that was in one of the children’s names. (The letter e.) This interest was further extended to explore the artwork of James Brunt who uses natural materials in his creations. This prompted informative discussions where the children compared their creations to the photos of James Brunt’s artwork, describing the patterns and features of both.

“Through dialogue children can develop their ideas and think out loud about what they’ll do next.” (Susan Whelan in Kolbe, 2014, p 44.)

As a team,  we have been exploring our role as teachers and how to engage in the conversation of play with children.

How can we extend children’s learning in their inquiries (in play) without ‘taking over’ their play?

This was discussed at a team meeting where we watched an excerpt the ECA learning module “Supporting child led inquiry.” We listened to  Ann Paelo discuss inquiry lead learning. What resonated with me from this video was the statement from Paelo for teachers to

“Step back and allow a question to breathe.”

If we provide the answers, we are losing opportunity for the children to extend their own learning and thinking processes. Putting this into practice is not easy.

Teachers play a crucial role in children’s play. This may be in their interactions with children in their play which can include questioning and prompting. It also includes planning the environment to extend children’s interests as well as provide opportunity for collaborative learning.

Recently one morning one of the children discovered a half eaten strawberry (on the strawberry plant) in the CELC garden.  This prompted excitement and lots of questions amongst the children which involved some creative hypothesising as to what had happened to the strawberry.

The children pondered on what had happened to the strawberry. We took photos of the artefact (half eaten strawberry) and shared these with other CELC friends during morning group time discussions. This prompted further hypothesising as to what had happened to the strawberry. I took on the role as ‘scribe’ to record the children’s ideas.

“Curiosity leads to action…Playfully asking ‘I wonder’ and ‘What if’ encourages a willingness to try things… ‘what can you tell me about.’ ” Kolbe 2014.

The children’s ideas varied from worms eating the strawberry. To a ‘very hungry caterpillar’ eating the strawberry.

Whilst we did not discover what happened to the strawberry, the children did display:

  • Their existing knowledge of insect life that is often found in gardens
  • Turn taking skills in conversation with their peers
  • Developing confidence to use  technology to record the experience (taking photos with the iPad then sharing these on the Apple TV)
  • Involvement in literacy practises which included the recording of their ideas by the teacher scribing their thoughts into sentences  (becoming aware of the grammatical conventions of question marks and inverted commas)
  • The ability to transfer their knowledge across settings, this included the knowledge that insects live in gardens and can sometimes eat plants in gardens, that literature (stories) can help us understand life events (such as the story of the Very hungry caterpillar) and that we can learn new information from listening to our friends.


Reflecting on my role in children’s play has prompted me to pause and reflect on how to provide a  supportive environment where play is an essential element to the ongoing conversation  for learning where children’s inquiries lead their learning.

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