Learning Through Play: Teaching children to ask why

13 Sep

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin

Yesterday I was on the Radio 5 Live’s Drive programme discussing the Foundation Phase (While it is still active on the BBC site you can listen back to the interview here around 1:36:12 in). The reason I was on is because of this story covering a letter sent to the Westminster Government from academics and teachers arguing that children should not start formal learning until after the age of five in England.

Although it is becoming almost a bit of a cliché to quote examples of the Finnish approach, there is no escaping the fact that they continue to have the world’s leading education system. There, children do not start school at all until the age of seven. In fact the very idea of sitting children down younger than that for a formal education is deemed cruel.

Michael Gove, unsurprisingly, was dismissive of the notion of learning through play, instead insisting on the knowledge based route he has so far mapped out in England. In response to the letter the English Secretary of State for Education said;

“We need a system that aims to prepare pupils to solve hard problems in calculus or be a poet or engineer.”

The main problem with his argument is that what he proposes does just the opposite to what he wishes to achieve. Problem solving is actually at the heart of a learning through play environment. In contrast, the more ‘traditional’ model educates that individual thinking out of students.

In Wales we have the Foundation Phase. Many, myself included, would argue that it is the definition of what devolution can achieve. A courageous policy that seeks to develop the whole child. From instilling greater communication and self-confidence in pupils, to enhancing their personal, social, physical and emotional development, the Foundation Phase is focused on ensuring that children approach education in a different way to the often sterile and rigid, ‘sit at your desk and do as you are told,’ attitude of old. While a true evaluation of the success of the Foundation Phase can not really begin to take place until the first years who went through it have left school, anecdotal evidence suggests we are on the right track in producing a more inquisitive, creative and independent thinking generation of school children.

Anyone can be forced to recall facts, but at the core of the Foundation Phase is the ambition to provide the skills to put that information to use. All children need the knowledge they get through education but retention of the when, where, what and who facts achieves little unless we empower pupils with the application to also ask why.


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