Upstart Scotland and the power of play

Earlier this week, I attended the launch of the Upstart Scotland campaign. This is a campaign aimed at raising the starting age of children into schools to 7 years; following the example of many high achieving countries such as Poland, Estonia and Finland.

Image from morguefile.com

Currently, children in Scotland start school at age 4-5. It is suggested that this early starting age could be having negative impacts on our children, not only academically, but also in their overall wellbeing. In answer to this, Upstart Scotland proposes that a kindergarten stage should be introduced, delaying formal education and extending the amount of time that children can spend just being children.

If you would like to read some of the research and evidence that the Upstart campaign is based on, please visit Upstart Scotland – The Evidence.

The Upstart launch consisted of talks by 2, fascinating and very knowledgeable women. Sue Palmer is the founder of the movement. She is also a literacy specialist and focuses on early education and play. Dr Suzanne Zeedyk is a developmental psychology specialist from within the University of Dundee.

Both speakers placed great emphasis on the importance of play. Now, I am a big advocate of play of all kinds and I always get excited when people recognise its value and worth. Throughout the evening, it was mentioned that we should not have to JUSTIFY play, as if it were an indulgence. Here here! Following this, a point was made that at first I agreed with, but on further reflection I just can’t get my head around:

Why does it always have to be LEARNING THROUGH play?

(Please don’t quote me on the exact wording, but this was the idea.) The suggestion was that play should just be allowed to be play, without the learning emphasis.

The reason for my initial agreement is that, yes, I do feel that children should be given the time, space and freedom to play without adults intervening or guiding in order to meet outcomes.

However, when I was thinking it over at home, I realised that:

Play IS Learning!

In my opinion, there simply is no such thing as playing without learning. As hard as I tried, I could not think of an example of play where no learning was taking place.

Take splashing in puddles for example, on first glance this might appear to be pure play, without any purpose or learning. Then take a minute to think. The child is learning to control their body so that they can land in the puddle. They are learning that if they jump or stamp then the water will splash. They are perhaps learning to take turns, if someone else is splashing in the same puddle. They are learning that if they splash in a puddle wearing their trainers, then they get wet feet, however if they wear their wellies then they can stay dry… You may not be able to map all of these against the curriculum, but learning is certainly taking place.

Image from morguefile.com

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that Sue and Suzanne would agree with me, and that the point was aimed at ‘play based learning’, which is a very different thing. Play based learning is usually planned experiences with a planned outcome. It is adult lead and has the clear goal of learning a skill or consolidating knowledge. This is the type of play which appears more often within schools rather than free play which is intrinsically led and spontaneous with no obvious goal.

 

Personally, I cannot see a problem with the phrase ‘Learning through play’ because that is what children are doing all of the time. In fact, I believe that this is what the Upstart campaign is all about! By raising the starting age of formal school, we are giving children more time to investigate their world, explore and establish relationships, develop innate motivation and wonder. We are giving them more time to learn through play.

 

Image from morguefile.com

 

For more information about the Upstart Scotland Campaign please visit:

Upstart.scot

A few of my fellow students have blogged about the launch and the campaign:

Hannah Wilson

Laura

Kim Rennie

The BBC also posted an article in response to the movement:

Should the school starting age be raised to seven?

2 thoughts on “Upstart Scotland and the power of play”

  1. Spot on! Play IS learning.
    I think the problem is that people often confuse teaching with learning –i.e. we’ve got some learning outcomes to deliver — what can we use as a vehicle?
    Then it becomes ‘teaching through play’ which is almost a contradiction in terms. Learning in the early years is a holistic process. When people mix up ‘outcomes’ with ‘targets’ they may hit the target, but they entirely miss the point.
    Let young children play, then count the outcomes. That’s what developmentally-appropriate early years education is all about — ask the Finns! The vast majority of kids will reach them all if we just stop trying to CONTROL things all the time!
    All the best,
    Sue

    1. Hi Sue, thanks for your comment! I definitely agree with letting the children lead and the outcomes will follow.
      “Whoever wants to understand much must play much.” -Gottfried Benn

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