Play lies at the heart of learning, a finding confirmed by countless studies, and much of early  childhood learning looks like – and is embedded – in play and play-like activities. Play can often be disruptive, and  if directed by the child herself, is often pursued according to rules that seem random or confusing to  outside observers. Learning often involves experimentation, exploration and repetition – which if it involves inversing a bowl of porridge on the floor repeatedly may be difficult for a parent to distinguish from  pure caprice or wilfulness. At the same time, serving  children ’ s learning is the central preoccupation of  millions of caregivers – parents, relatives and teachers – but unfortunately caretakers often are not aware of the  many ways in which a  child ’ s seemingly wilful or random activity often masks deep and active learning. In particular, caretakers from low-income backgrounds often lack the means to distinguish between  behaviour that calls for discipline and that which calls for support. Education is seen as they key to  ‘ getting ahead ’ . So if it  doesn ’ t ‘ look like ’ traditional learning – studying for tests or doing multiplication tables – children  are rewarded not with a pat on the back but a slap on the head. If behaviour is not recognised as learning –  or worse, is penalised rather than being encouraged – parents miss out on a fundamental chance to enrich  their own lives and those of their children. By creating a framework for observation in the form of a simplified  but robust methodology, this project provides parents and other caregivers with the tools necessary to  transform their observations into usable data – data that can be compared, analysed, and used by educational researchers worldwide. This paper describes a series of projects undertaken to empower parents to  become researchers of their  children ’ s learning, and documents the challenges and transformations that resulted  from the  project.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Making playful learning visible

Siobhan Thomas   London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, London

James Bradburne   London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, London

Play lies at the heart of learning, a finding confirmed by countless studies, and much of early  childhood learning looks like – and is embedded – in play and play-like activities. Play can often be disruptive, and  if directed by the child herself, is often pursued according to rules that seem random or confusing to  outside observers. Learning often involves experimentation, exploration and repetition – which if it involves inversing a bowl of porridge on the floor repeatedly may be difficult for a parent to distinguish from  pure caprice or wilfulness. At the same time, serving  children ’ s learning is the central preoccupation of  millions of caregivers – parents, relatives and teachers – but unfortunately caretakers often are not aware of the  many ways in which a  child ’ s seemingly wilful or random activity often masks deep and active learning. In particular, caretakers from low-income backgrounds often lack the means to distinguish between  behaviour that calls for discipline and that which calls for support. Education is seen as they key to  ‘ getting ahead ’ . So if it  doesn ’ t ‘ look like ’ traditional learning – studying for tests or doing multiplication tables – children  are rewarded not with a pat on the back but a slap on the head. If behaviour is not recognised as learning –  or worse, is penalised rather than being encouraged – parents miss out on a fundamental chance to enrich  their own lives and those of their children. By creating a framework for observation in the form of a simplified  but robust methodology, this project provides parents and other caregivers with the tools necessary to  transform their observations into usable data – data that can be compared, analysed, and used by educational researchers worldwide. This paper describes a series of projects undertaken to empower parents to  become researchers of their  children ’ s learning, and documents the challenges and transformations that resulted  from the  project.

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