As a teacher, when you sit and listen to an expert tell you that it is a waste of time teaching concrete operations in numeracy and literacy to a child under seven years of age, he has your attention. Such was the case recently when I was fortunate to attend the Mental Health and Wellbeing for Young People Conference. The speaker was Nathan Wallis from New Zealand, an expert in child development.
Nathan explained how research showed that getting high academic grades in the early years does not lead to success in later life. He explained that between the ages of two and eight play leads to creativity and duality (concrete to abstract), that creativity is important to intelligence, and intelligence is the ability to solve problems. During these impressionable years when children are encouraged to play and develop their creativity, they build their social and emotional skills. These are the qualities, he went on to say, that lead to ‘success’.
According to the experts, this play-based learning needs to be child-led, not teacher/adult-led. So, what is our role as teachers (I’m including parents in this role, as they are the primary influence in their young child’s life)? The teacher’s role is to scaffold their play, to extend their play, and thereby extend their learning; they act as a facilitator, watching for teachable moments, observing and jumping in when appropriate. Every child brings with them a deep curiosity and potential, and this innate curiosity drives their interest to understand their world and their place in it; we just need to observe, listen and provide the right environment. Adults are the mentors and the guides, listening to a child’s questions and their stories, finding out what interests them and then providing opportunities to explore these interests further.
A lack of creativity leads to anxiety. Anxiety, or a lack of calm, inhibits learning. That’s why if you have a significant relationship with someone you feel calm and safe, and you can learn; ‘significant learning comes from a significant relationship’ is a belief we hold sacred. It’s such relationships that allow us to understand a child’s needs and assists us to provide the right environment for learning through play to occur.
Nathan stated the risk is society wanting academic results. According to brain research, from the age of nine, you will see an improvement in academic results if creativity has been developed in the prior years. Children will be more intelligent and more resilient.
So, when your child comes home and states that they didn’t do anything but play at school today, don’t panic. The communication, collaboration, knowledge and creativity that went into building that castle in the sandpit, or the Lego city they constructed in the classroom, or the bark hut they built on the Flat, or the maze they created at Tech Tinkerers, are all vehicles for developing their problem-solving skills and setting them up for success in life.
Deputy Head of Junior School Donvale