Just Playing? The Role and Status of Play in Early Childhood Education

Just Playing? The Role and Status of Play in Early Childhood Education

Just Playing? The Role and Status of Play in Early Childhood Education

Just Playing? The Role and Status of Play in Early Childhood Education


Just Playing explores why we should encourage, promote, value and initiate play in our classrooms, and why teachers should be part of it. Janet Moyles draws on research findings from several countries which provide further evidence for establishing the value of play. She focuses on children between 4 and 8, examining the principles of play in early childhood education, and indicates how these principles can be put into practice. She provides a full justification for including play in the early years curriculum and encourages teachers, through examples of children at play, to review their own thinking on the issues in the light of core curriculum pressures. This is essential reading for trainee and practising nursery and primary teachers and nursery nurses; and for all those concerned with the education and development of young children.


Play is undoubtedly a means by which humans and animals explore a variety of experiences in different situations for diverse purposes. Consider, for example, when one acquires a new item of equipment, such as a washing machine - a majority of adults will dispense with the formality of reading the manual from cover to cover in favour of 'playing' with the controls and functions. By this means, individuals come to terms with innovations and familiarize themselves with objects and materials: in descriptions of child play this is frequently classed as 'functional' play. This 'hands on' experience of a real situation with a real purpose for the would-be 'player' is normally followed by the immediate learning of many of the facets of the new machine, reinforced subsequently by referral to the manual and consolidated by practice.

The similarity of this process to an idealized form of learning for young children is inescapable. Yet how far is play truly valued by those involved with the education and upbringing of young children? How often is play and choosing play materials reserved as an activity for when children have finished their 'work', thus reducing both its impact and its effect on the child's development? How many children. come to nursery education unable to involve themselves in play because of a passive upbringing which has viewed play as a noisy, messy and unnecessary activity?

What most adults fail to recognize and acknowledge is just how much they themselves play in adult life, and unless and until we can both accept such play and value it in its many forms, it is difficult for anyone to value children's play as anything other than a non-work activity.

Take as another example, role play. Children explore what it is like to be mother, father, doctor, dentist (Plowden Report: DES, 1967: para. 523): wearing another's shoes helps children to deal with polymorphous characters in a range of contexts and is typified in pretend and dramatic play. Many adults find it difficult to consider themselves as instigators of such role play except perhaps as active participants in a professional or amateur dramatic production. But what of the prospective applicant for a . . .

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