We all know how vital play is for children, both young and older. Play involves imagination, creativity, joy, problem solving, conversations and debate. It can be spontaneous, structured, alongside peers or independent. Being playful with ideas, playful with materials and playful with each other, is how children express understanding, extend thinking and continue to learn about the world around them.
Early Learning staff are continually observing how the COVID-19 situation is influencing the children’s play, thinking and conversations. We scaffold and support this play as part of our educational programme and have witnessed the children expressing their understandings of what is happening in the world around them through the many languages of play.
From using sticks as thermometers to simulate the taking of temperatures, creating play masks to stop the germs, pretending to be a parent running school from home, to announcing ‘the delivery man is here!’ and using loose parts (blocks, rocks) to deliver Uber Eats meals to their teachers and friends. We have seen a myriad of examples of how the children use play as their language to re-tell, question and expand on the coronavirus and how it is affecting their world.
Early Learning staff are trained to respond to children’s play, to value and build on it. When children pretend a pinecone is ‘the virus’ and use a water can to spray ‘cleaner’ on it to kill the germs, gather instruments to form a band with a hit song about handwashing or dramatise the travel ban by setting up a closed airport and use a witches hat as a megaphone to announce ‘sorry you cannot go on holidays’, this is not ignored, but rather listened to. Teachers listen carefully with open ears, eyes and mind, knowing that play gifts us many clues into the children’s thinking, theories, worries and hopes.
The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia states that 'childhood is a time to be, to seek and make meaning of the world' and now more than ever, we must prioritise time and space for play, for in an unsettled and uncertain world, play is a space where children feel safe.
Sarah Denholm, Director of Early Learning