If you have a look at my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/carolstutoringwestlothian/) you will quickly realise that I highly value play as a tool in creating the right environment where children can learn. This is not a new philosophy, indeed Plato stated that to keep children to their studies you should not use compulsion but instead use play.
The idea of play in education is nothing new to teachers either, at university we learn about Maslow, Piaget and countless other experts. Many of these experts expunge the importance of play as a tool for learning. Yet as I became more experienced as a teacher the myriad of demands I was met with moved play from a key aspect in learning to a by line, handy if I could fit it in amongst all the other demands from school, local authority and government. At times, it felt easier to deliver lessons through the old fashioned chalk and talk method as opposed to coming up with creative ways to engage children in play to aid their learning.
Then I started tutoring. Many of the unnecessary demands of teaching fell away. That is not to say running my own business has no demands, it obviously has many. These include accounts, marketing, planning, producing and procuring resources, the list is endless! Yet somehow, I found more time to take my teaching back to what is important. That being the child.
The children I work with all have one thing in common; for one reason or another they are finding conventional education is not meeting their needs. They are not shining in the way that they are clearly capable of. It has been said that “You cannot make people learn. You can only provide the right conditions for learning to happen.” (Vince Gowmon).
I could attend their houses and provide the traditional style of teaching. Indeed, many parents say they have hired me specifically as I am a practising teacher. However, the traditional methods are not working for these children. It is not their failing, neither is it their teachers failing, but we must change the conditions these children experience to help them improve.
Many, in fact almost all, of the children say they do not like textbooks or worksheets. These methods clearly are not working for them. Therefore, in an attempt to provide the right conditions for learning I use games and play. I squeeze learning in through the back door, the children do not realise they are learning and pressures they often feel are lifted. However, whilst the children may not realise they are learning their brains certainly do, “Play is our brain’s favourite way of learning.” (Diane Ackerman)
Whilst we sit and play I am sure many parents have wondered if their children are actually learning anything at all, certainly when it is a new working relationship I imagine them wondering. I believe in time my methods speak for themselves, the children I work with make real progress. But, you do not need to just take my word and experience on that. George Dorsey famously stated that “Play is the beginning of knowledge.” And whilst we may look like we are just playing the children are making connections in their learning, building capacity and knowledge and this leads to real confidence within the curricular area that can transfer to the school environment.
“If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow.” (Alfie Kohn) It is my experience that children feel safer, less exposed, when playing games. They are more likely to take risks and make mistakes. But in tutoring we can examine these mistakes and turn them into learning points. This helps children make real progress both within tutoring and at school. They realise that risk is not bad and in turn are often more likely to take risks at school. Teachers often give pupil’s choice and many use mild, spicy and hot tasks as a way of differentiating work. I find children who are used to taking risks in tutoring are more likely to take the risk of challenging themselves with either a spicy or hot task. What is more, they often discover they are capable of them which boosts their confidence and helps them enter a positive learning cycle, where risks feel good and they are more likely to challenge themselves.
In amongst all these positives, play has an even more important role. “Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.” (Abraham Maslow) Maslow is another expert that we study as trainee teachers. However, in this quickly changing work most of the jobs our children will do as adults likely do not even exist yet. We need to teach children the skills to be able to adapt, to cooperate and to use their imaginations to be able to fully function in a world that we cannot even imagine. Play helps in doing just that. “Play will raise the child in ways you can never imagine.” (Vince Gowmon) This is why I shall be ensuring I bring more play based opportunities into my classroom as well as my tutoring.