Why Play?


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.







What is Place Value?

What is Place Value_ (1)

Place value is the value of each digit in a number.  But what is the difference between a digit and a number? Well, a digit is a single number which forms part of bigger number whereas number is the collection of the group of digits.   So, if we take 563, the 5, 6 and 3 are the separate digits but, combined in this order, they make the number 563.  Place value is the understanding that the 5 represents 5 hundreds, the 6 is 6 tens and the 3 is 3 units.  As can be seen:-


What makes this hard initially is the pesky zero!  Look at these numbers







I am sure, as adults, we can agree they are all different.  But imagine being a child where you are still learning about numbers and being faced with this.  Suddenly, it is really very complicated.  By the time children are in primary 2 they are being asked to understand numbers in the hundreds.  Often in writing they can circle the biggest number or sequence a set of numbers.  They can identify the digit in the hundreds, tens or units columns.  Worksheet assessments will show all this clearly.  But as soon as you start playing with numbers and discussing them with children they can often demonstrate a shaky understanding of the concept.

Asking children to count or skip count (counting in jumps, i.e. 3, 6, 9, 12…) can demonstrate they stumble when they need to jump from one decade to the next (29 to 30, 59 to 60) or to the next hundred (99 to 100, 299 to 300).  When asked to write a number they may struggle to know exactly what column each digit should be in, writing 563 as 50063 for example.  Or when asked which number comes first out of 57 and 302 they may say 57 as the 5 is bigger than the 3, it didn’t relate to the value of where the digit sat.

If children do not fully understand the concept of place value in their early years then as they progress to harder mathematical concepts in primary 3 or 4 is all of a sudden can prove difficult. They need to understand this key concept to be able to add and subtract bigger numbers, to use times tables, negative numbers and more.

Every single child I work with for maths tuition have 1 single thing in common.  They all have a misunderstanding of place value.  Helping the child start to understand that 563 is the same as 500+60+3 helps them break it down and play with it.  We use a range of techniques and resources to help children understand this.  Once understood, children can then use this knowledge to add and subtract, multiply and divide and are less likely to make errors in their work.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!  Today we start the website and the blog.  But how exactly did I get into tutoring? Well, here is a little about me.

I was born and raised in the Muirhouse in Edinburgh back in the 1980’s.  Have you seen Trainspotting?  Well that is where I am from.  It isn’t a bad thing though, it taught me the grit and determination I have needed to succeed in whatever I have put my hand to.

My parents valued education, indeed my father was a teacher, yet I left school at 16 years old.  I was not, and to this day am not an academic.  However, in my early 20’s I gave up a job in a law firm to go to college and then onto the University of Edinburgh to study primary teaching.  I am now back at the University of Edinburgh, this time studying a Masters in Learning for Sustainability.  It was daunting to go back to uni when I am no academic, a Masters degree is for learned people, no?  However, I recently met a lecturer called Dr Sam Harrison who has completed his doctorate, runs a great sustainability residential project up north and was quite frank in saying he is no academic (though he really knows his stuff).  He is the first person who made me think maybe this wee lass from Muirhouse might just find her way through academia!

But back to the matter at hand, how I ended up a tutor.  My studies taught me that it is essential that learning is engaging and meaningful.  Indeed, my best grades at university have been those where could see a meaningful reason to study and take enjoyment in doing so.  The subjects I struggled with were those that were dull, where I was expected to learn facts and figures but could not see how they might relate to real life.  As a teacher (I am currently teaching a wonderful primary 6 class on a Wednesday) and now as a tutor, I keep that in mind.  With over ten years experience I still hold true to the philosophy that learning must be real, meaningful and most importantly, fun!

To me, tutoring gives me the best parts of teaching.  I get to work closely with children and their families to help them progress.  I get to challenge them and help them achieve things they never felt possible.  The children themselves are inspirational and it is a wholly rewarding job.  The biggest compliment I get is when parent’s say the confidence their child is developing eclipses that of the single curricular area and carries over into their entire lives.  Children seem happier, more confident and are willing to challenge themselves.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton