Nurturing lifelong learning through play

Issue: Volume 99, Number 18

Posted: 5 November 2020
Reference #: 1HADqh

A schoolwide focus on play-based learning and social coaching at Wairakei School is helping ease the transition from early childhood education and developing engaged tamariki with a disposition for future learning.

The Christchurch primary school integrates Te Whāriki and The New Zealand Curriculum to remove barriers to learning and create an environment which is open-ended and child-directed, while nurturing imagination and lifelong learning.

“When we were looking at how best to cater for our learners who are coming in with different needs and strengths, we looked at Te Whāriki as being a driver for that change that we wanted to happen as part of our curriculum redevelopment,” says principal Shane Buckner.

The Year 1 and 2 space, which has been gutted and redeveloped into a flexible learning environment, looks and feels like an early learning centre.

“In a Year 1–2 learning space, you would see lots of children doing different activities all around the place. There are fine motor activities, gross motor activities, construction, art and drama.

“At the same time, you will see two or three adults social coaching with them: engaged in conversations with one or more children in an informal way. They will be modelling best practice for how to talk to someone: ‘Can I use this? How do you use this? Do you like my work?’.

“Part of where we come from is developing that collaborative teaching and learning practice and developing a flexible learning environment specifically for the different areas in the school,” says Shane.

Play and social coaching

Play-based learning, social stories and social coaching all come under the umbrella of experiential learning at Wairakei School. By Years 3 and 4, children’s learning through play activity will relate to work they are doing in the classroom. In Years 5–6 play experiences are project-based or passion projects.

“That consistent practice has to be across the whole school. In the Year 5 and 6 space, the children have about 45 minutes when they can look at the specific direction of learning they want to do,” says Shane.

“This morning, there were children outside coaching each other doing athletics, a group doing some coding, another doing board games and a group doing a writing exercise in a circle.

“There’s no direct explicit teaching during that 45 minutes, but the teachers were all roaming and the teaching was being done through a social coaching lens in the context the children were working in. For example, some kids were outside doing their high jump practice. They were having a bit of trouble putting the high jumps up to the right height, the teacher was doing some social coaching around solving the problem.

“Because we have been doing this for a couple of years now, it’s starting to become second nature for my staff to look for opportunities to develop the children’s social skills. The holistic education we are doing is around the whole self and sometimes that needs some explicit coaching.”

Social stories

Wairakei School is into its fourth year of PB4L (Postive Behaviour for Learning) and Shane says that social coaching and social stories are a big focus across the school. The school has 70–80 bright and simple social stories on Google Slides, where an expected behaviour is broken down into about six illustrated boxes with simple, positive actions.

“All staff are responsible for compiling, making and planning different lesson plans around specific areas of need that we have seen. Some children might be hitting children, so we might have a focus and a social story around that.

“That’s done at the beginning of the day in every area of the school – the same thing everywhere – and it’s backed up all through the day. Some of that coaching might be around positive things, not just negative things. Say if children are playing with blocks and you want them to share the blocks and you might say ‘so, what are you doing if so and so needs to have the blocks?’ They are able to articulate because they have had instruction in this,” says Shane.

PB4L has been an evolving process for teachers and Shane says the school’s learning spaces and the engagement practice of teachers and children are now totally different as they are authentic and child-centred.

Focus on oral language

Shane says that the school has a strong focus on language and social communication. To build oral language, he says, children learn through play and are given opportunities to experience learning through different activities. Teachers and support staff introduce new vocabulary and encourage children to use it as they are engaged in doing and making activities.

“We were seeing the children coming in with some oral language deficits. We wanted to build up that oral language capacity and that was very often through experiential learning which we really believe is a big driver for children to gain social connectedness and social interaction so they know how to talk with other children and connect on those different levels.

“If we want to encourage creative language, we might look at bubbles: the shape and look of bubbles and then you have a big bubble bath here and everyone makes their own bubbles. They can go home and do those things at home. Then they start to build more vocabulary around those things that are normal everyday things that you can talk about,” he explains.

The Ministry of Education’s new online oral language resource, Talking together, Te Kōrerorero, was developed as a practical tool for teachers in early learning and early primary schooling. It offers a wide menu of information and strategies to dip in and out of according to what they need at any time and is available through Te Whāriki Online.(external link)

Play supports language acquisition

There are 21 different cultures at the 250-student school and English is not the first language for around 15 to 20 per cent of the roll. Learning through play works well for these students as they are learning through experience and a contextual basis supported by the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teachers and teacher aides.

“Supporting these children to understand how the words fit together by ‘doing’ is so much easier. A play-based learning approach is really good for that because the children are relaxed and happy, doing things, building relationships and the language comes on top of that. A focused language opportunity that they are doing through experiential learning certainly supports the acquisition of dialogue and language,” says Shane.

Curriculum and engagement

Learning through play features child-led activities, decision making, critical thinking, risk-taking and relationship building. An activity such as children roleplaying building a fire to toast marshmallows might cover key competencies such as thinking and relating to others, science, English and drama.

“The children’s engagement and love of learning has increased immensely,” says Shane. “You can just feel the excitement in the mornings through the multi-faceted approach of everyone knowing what the expectations are, social coaching, the support practices by all staff (teachers and learner support), and children having ownership of their learning.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:02 am, 5 November 2020

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