Early Years Play and Learning: Developing Social Skills and Cooperation

By Pat Broadhead | Go to book overview

Introduction

Background

My interest in young children's sociability and cooperation began almost 25 years ago. Having left school at 16, when I trained as a teacher I was in the last cohort to be accepted without A Levels. Consequently I could qualify as a teacher not with a degree, but with a Certificate in Education. I took my B. Ed. as a part-time degree and in that three-year period, Matthew and Tom were born. Over the coming years, along with many, many observations in early years settings and in reception and year one classrooms, Matthew, Tom and their friends were to be a great source of knowledge in deepening my interest in and understanding of the growth of sociability and how it might be facilitated.

For that first degree I became interested in rough and tumble play. Before becoming a mother, and as a teacher in a nursery setting, I had been thinking about the extent to which the resources and activities we provided for children could encourage them to be sociable. It seemed to me that much of what we traditionally offered encouraged solitary achievement and that children had to find opportunities to be sociable and cooperative somewhere in the spaces in between. They were quite good at finding those spaces, and rough and tumble play was an important activity for them; however, in my early days as a teacher, along with my colleagues in the nursery setting, I seemed to spend quite a lot of time trying to stop the rough and tumble. This set me thinking, and gave me a focus for my first piece of research, the dissertation for the B. Ed.

In the two nurseries where I undertook the data collection, I observed play on the climbing frame, running and chasing play and any indoor episodes of spontaneous rough and tumble that occurred. It was during these very early observations that I became aware of the importance of facial expressions, eye contact and smiling and laughter for young children seeking to make new contacts and to establish friendships. I also noted how difficult it was for such contacts to be sustained for those children who did not, for whatever reason, know how to use such facial gestures. The work of Blurton-Jones (1967, 1972), an ethnographer, was influential at this time; he looks in some detail at rough and tumble play also. I saw how quickly children became skilful at making and following their own rules so as to bring order and structure to their play. I became interested in how play themes emerged, almost from nowhere it seemed at first, although I gradually came to recognize the themes as clear indicators of thinking in action and began to recognize how the themes were taken up and developed by the children, becoming a unifying focus for their social and cooperative interactions.

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