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Structured play versus free play!


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hi all thanks for all the feed back so far

 

Ive been spending time reading and have a few thoughts, I seem to be coming across alot of re-occuring issues so if any one has an opinion

 

I know the foundation stage folder leans towards play as the best method for teaching but I wondered are the inspectors encouraging free play or do they like to see structured play,

 

To those who have had education inspections -

are the inspectors open minded to play or do they ask about more structured learning?

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I think they are looking for a good combination of both. Our free play time is from 9am to 10.40am ish. I thought they might say this was too long-we allow the children to play and have focused activities going on at the same time. They both actually wanted us to extend this time!!!!!!! At the moment we tidy up at 10.40 and then split the children into 2 groups depending on age. One group has story time and the other does a physical activity such as bean bags, balls etc or Sticky Kids or we have the musical instruments out. Then they swap. They want us to have activies going on during free play for the children to "tap into". Not sure how this is going to work as yet and we are going to have a staff meeting once the written report arrives to discuss it. But it was nice to know that they preffered unstructured activities and more free play time.

They were more concerned about what we did if a child missed a planned activity-how did we redress this and what other activities took place to build on what they had done. Oh, and wanted children to be able to revisit activities if they wanted to-so do twenty paintings in a morning if needs be (slight exaggeration there!!!!) I suppose if we extend our free play time this will be possible. At the moment with 40 children on the register we are just about having time for them all to do an activity once!

Hope this helps.

Linda

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thanks Linda

 

that was encouraging to read and I hope it is simular for all inspectors

 

I find at times parents the hardest to explain play too,there is always one parent who says "how many paintings have you done today?"

 

We had an NVQ assessor come to the group and she wanted the member of staff who was being assessed to explain the links between all the different activities she wanted reasons for everything the whole session needed a theme and each activity needed intrecate plans. Much that I can understand the point to asking the member of staff to think about why every activity is set out and how it will encourages development some times its nice to provide an "off the cuff" activity and see where the children take the idea we tend to provide lots of "off the cuff" activities in the routine of a week and I dont think I could of planned many of these learning activities better

 

"why is the home corner out?"

 

do we always need a long winded answers explaining all the possible learning opportunities, we all know there are countless possibilities

or can we simply say "because the children enjoy it?" and let them get on with the play

 

if everything is explained in advance doesnt that limit the free flow potential of play?

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Dear Alison,

I couldn't agree more with your last two paras - how many times have I put out an activity which I think ties in and links with the overall theme only for the children to take it to a completely different level. Perhaps I got it wrong - and the children have taught me something about the activity which I may put to good use next time.

Good example of this was given to my last week - we are making a stable out of wine boxes, (thank you Sainsbury's) and each week the children have been thinking of things they can put into it. We have some very heavily cottonwalled 3-d sheep, cows, some of them wanted giraffes etc etc. I thought that they would not enjoy painting the boxes as it only involved painting them brown. However, I put out the rollers and paint and let them get on with it, apart from providing the basic material there was no adult on hand. However, each child who undertook the activitiy sat at the table for 15 minutes min. carefully covering every side, totally absorbed. I couldn't understand why they found this so absorbing it was only after I had given it some thought that I realised that this was the first time this term that I had put out the rollers and some of the newer children who arrived at half term had never used the rollers!!

 

I was certainly pleased to see Linda's note on the inspectors view on free play as we offer a much longer period of free play with two or three focussed activities during the morning. Hope my inspectors think the same way.

 

Nikki

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Alison, I think it depends on the person who inspects you!! We had someone who wanted more structured work never mind play! "the learning" was all that mattered.

We have decided to stick with what we as early years Practitioners have decided feels right for us and our children. A bit of both. Times for independant play and time for teacher led activities.

I found your comments about your NVQ 3 assessor rather daunting. Sounds like she was inspecting!!

How did the candidate do?

I hope by the next inspection, the foundation stage is more established and we are not always having to worry about the balance and method.

When will you be inspected? :o

Chris

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Hi cat33

 

our inspection will possibly be next may it will be our first combined inspection ani I am dreading it but I dont want this discussion to lapse too much into the inspection process other than how inspectors reflect on the play

 

In our settings we have alot of under 3s as well as the children elidgable for NEG the majority of the play is free play with adult support guidance to encourage a stepping stone or to supervise the use of equipment there are 3 short 10 minute periods begining midle and end where we have group/ circle time when we can share news sing songs or tell stories

 

we only recently registered for nursery grant and as I read the the mountain of stuff that gets sent to me I keep seeing the phrase "conditions of the grant" and "session planning"

 

I am happy that our sessions provide a balance of activities and my teacher mentor has been a great encouragment with the planning that we have but I cannt help wondering if the inspectors will want to see more structured play or adult led activities

 

I love to watch the children play and discover and then step in and say "wow" when its clear they have discovered something new, or when a child is trying hard but cannt manage a task giving them that helping hand so that they can continue on their own.

 

sitting around the dough table having a gossip and discovering all the different uses for sausages and snakes I feel children need stimulation not structure but do the inspectors see it that way?

 

yesterday I had a wonderful learning opportunity, a child found that his trike was falling over because he was siting too far back on the seat. I kept trying to tell him that he was sitting on the seat wrong but he was getting rather frustrated with the trike. So I showed him the three seater see-saw and that if he sits on the end it tips over and if he sits in the middle it will balance. As a result he grasped the idea of balance and sat further forward in the trike seat. Free play with good supervision can be a great way for children to learn

 

Do people find that the foundation stage encourages play or are they finding the need to organise lots of structured play to ensure that the whole of the stage is being covered?

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I am always confused as to what 'structured play" means and where it came from. If you have planned the environment and continually add resources in responce to childrens use of the area and play with and support them then this is structuring their play (?) I thought, although sometimes I get the feeling from managers that structure means an adult led activity with a clear end point and objective...

 

In the FS guidance don't think it mentions terms structured and free, more along lines of child initiated and adult initiated. (?)

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ou are right Mhari that it is more along the lines of adult initiated and child initiated activities. Anything you give a child to do is adult initiated, even if yu leave them to play with it however they want. By virtue of the fact that you have provided it and they have not chosen it themselves. Does this make sense? Whereas, if you allow the children to chose what goes out each day in the way of activities and equipment then this is child initiated. Very confusing? Because then what is "free" play and "structured" play??????

To go to what Alison is saying, it depends on the inspector, but we found ours wanted the children to be able to chose for themselves and have a more flexible morning. They want us to extend our "free play" time and allow the children to "tap into" activities when they want. Not sure how we are going to work this? They also wanted us to give children the time to revisit activities if they wanted-structured or otherwise. So, if say there was a particular activity going on and a child wanted to take part more than once then they should be able to. If we extend our free play time we should be able to do this. But, then how do we fit in story time, band and singing, Sticky kids etc????? I think this is something we are going to have to evolve over the next couple of years and it will be a case of trying out and seeing what works.

And yes it is stimulation that they are looking for. Open ended questions is a biggy!!! Getting as much out of the children that you can and then extending this and building on what they already know.

Linda

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My understanding of structured play is setting up activities for children to access to enable learning. For example, equipping the play dough with baking tools one day, natural things to make prints, picures of animals to try and model and on and on. Another way to describe it is then, you have a learning objective for the activity and provide the materials to access it. There might not alway be an adult present but learning will still take place. My worry comes when we are not always able to record the learning or observe other learning important to the child (significat experience). Oh to be a Practitioner in early years. I wonder, when the key stage 2 staff look at what we do and think it is just play, whether they realize the skills we have to have.

Chris :o

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It would be impossible to let the children choose which activity to have out each day because all our equipment has to be packed away each day as my pre-school building is a multi-functional church hall.The equipment is chosen on a rotational basis. As I see it,"a child initiated activity" is taking place when children are playing together without an adult directing the play. they may be doing something that an adult had initiated on a previous ocassion.Then it would have been structured play. Last week we made a bus . An adult showed the children what to do e.g. writing the bus tickets,collecting the money and helping the children to write signs with the destinations on. I would call that structured play .Today the children arranged all the chairs,got the paper,pencils ,tickets and till out from the home corner. I would call that free play.When we were inpected we were told that we had a good balance.

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hi Bubblejack

 

we have exactly the same "church hall & rotate activities"set up, do you find yourself dreaming of your own premesis................?

 

I shall be devils advocate..... :o

 

Children need structure to direct them to learn something new ..... left to their own choices they are likely to keep choosing familiar activieties and keep repeating the same things over and over,

 

when choosing the balance of activities in the session there needs to be slightly more structured play activities than child led free play xD

 

a while ago we had a child who would sit at the table activities the whole session not moving from the one table, although that child was being allowed to choose to sit there she wasnt benifitting from any of the other resources that where available eventually with alot of coaxing we managed to get her to change tables and eventually move to the carpet then the home corner after a period of about 6 weeks we had managed to get her to change tables and visit the home corner once or twice, other than that she stayed close to the tables. Then one day my daughter came into the session she was about 8 at the time and she managed in one session to do what we had been trying all term and she persuaded the little girl to mix and play with the other children and after that we rarely saw the child sat down, she needed a gentle push to take the plunge

 

In some sences child initiated play doesnt encourage the child further than their own natural curiousity, there is no "push" some children need no encouragement to be nosey but other children need a steering to get the most out of a session.

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Yes I do dream of having my own premises.Especially as I have a very big garden which could house a mobile building but I don't know but I don't know if that would encroach on my privacy. I would probably rather be in there than in my house!!!!!

I know what you mean about children needing a push to try different things. When I do the plan for the week I give an activity list to the adult covering the learning outcome for that activity who has to mark off each child who tries the activity with an a,b or c. At the endof the week we discuss all the observations for each activity in the room. The keyworker may record it on their childs personal profile. Also we have one large sheet made up with all the learning goals on with the names of all the children in the group so all staff are aware of each childs next step. This is amended each week if necessary. It was hard work to set up but now it's in place it's easy.

Do you put your equipment away when the children have gone home? We normally rotate the order in which we put away if we clear away before the children have left . One day we put all the table-top activities away so children have to use the less structured activities e.g role-play/small play.etc Another day we may put the less stuctured activities away so children have to use the table activitiesee.g puzzles ,art writing,shape,number etc I am always trying to find a better way to do something and am always open to suggestions.

The benefit of putting away each day is that the toys are rotated on a regular basis. The disadvantage is that its hard work. Sometimes we'v done a day's work before the children arrive. I'm paranoid about the state of the cupboard. I have a plan on the cupboard door so everyone knows where everything goes bt it still gets untidy.

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Hi BubbleJack

 

the dreaded store cupboard! I dare say any more? I am frequently told off because I am often found hiding in the cupboard sorting the shelves because we darent leave anything out of place for more than a session or it will disapear into the abyss

 

yes we have to tidy away every session and there are good and bad points we find on the plus side that the room we use being a church hall some sessions we tidy away slightly earlier and the children get the balls and hoops and haver a "free for all" every so often particularly when it has been a hectic session

 

we have tried all sorts of ways to make the sessions flow, keep the children amused while trying to put equipment away safely.

 

OFSTED told us we should involve the children more in tidy up time I think on the risk assessment side and say they are better kept as far away from the store cupboard as possible once we start to tidy tables and chairs away

 

on the line of the topic Structured play verses free play

 

what about teaching in preparation for school writing and number skills and work sheets, how far should we go in preparing a child for school?

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Hello Alison,

Just got back from the church and feeling very proud as my little angels sang beautifully and those that just sat their star struck didn't run off to their parents. We use everyday situations to incorporate letter and number. When the children use paint ,foam or sand we ask them if they would like to try and write their name.We encourage them to write their own name on their work. When we play card games we use those with letters or numbers sometimes. This sounds silly we encourage lots of physical play because children can't learn to write untill the have developed all their muscles.We let them paint the fence with water using large brushes. I think I am doing enough I have convinced myself anyway.

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Hi bubblejack,

 

I am in similar situation as I teach reception in the school hall which is also used for dinners. Whenever I have messy activities it is a stress to get cleared up before the dinner ladies arrive to set up! However I have now got assistance to help me clear up for 15 mins before lunch. i know what you mean about health and safety- some of the equipment is heavy and bulky and I'm not too keen to move it with the kids milling around. For example we have very large hollow unit blocks which are great but heavy especially when piled on their trolley. When I first started I went overboard trying to have a full a range of activities as possible, sand, water, role play, maths, construction, some with set 'challenges' eg. looking at floating and sinking in water, some more open ended. I was often knackered before the session started! I think I got myself a bit bogged down in trying to provide too much - often with completely free choice the girls would go direct to the writing table and the boys to the cars / construction, and i'd be left feeling a bit put out that I's gone to so much effort! so not I am trying to use a 'peg' system where each child pegs on to an activity, adult directed or not, then they are encouraged to change after say 45 mins. Hmm, seems to be improving things a bit. I tried putting the children into colour groups the other day, with 4 different coloured wrist bands. Red to water, blue to sand etc. Then we changed round. Thant was awful, we were all really disorientated and it was such a palaver! :o

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Mharhi, I think you deserve a medal! How on earth do you manage? I like your idea of pegs - sounds a bit high scope, plan do review. What about displays? Can you leave interest tables up?

I have an old army building but, compared to you, I think it is a palace.

Keep smiling :D

Chris

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Well, displays would be good but the walls are a bit damp so things fall off! Interest tables have to be packed up, even my role play area had to be packed up as it got colder and more children came inside for dinners and the room was needed. :o Oh well, I suppose you just have do make do with what you can and think of the positives. These are, at the moment:

 

The heater which is ancient but blasts out heat

No carpet, so no fussing about floors too much

Space

The great big old sink which we use for water play.

 

It's better than a portakabin which some teachers have, I guess.

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Mharhi,

Yes it's a nightmare isn't it.Do you spend a long while doing room plans like I do. I am like you have only a wooden floor so don't have to worry about carpets either. I store most of the equipment in trolleys to make it easier in the mornings. The trolleys become tables with a piece of wood for the top and a mat or material for the cover. I have recently purchased some very light weight ,portable partitions to put collage displayes on. I suppose their are positives to all this sometimes we change the whole room round and the children go round to find their favourite activity and come across an activity that they hadn't showed any interest in before and it becomes a firm favourite. We have lots of pop-up tents and tunnels that fold up very small we often use these in the role play area to create different senerios. This week has been sheer joy as we have had so many different Christmas concerts and entertainment so we haven,t had to set up each day. Oh to have my own premises!

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Hi All

 

I can empathise totally with the problems of space and storage there are so many activities we avoid because of the learing up afterwards which I feel is a shame

 

also the problems with storage affect the planning, timing when during a session to have the messy play because of drying creations before its time to go home because there is no where to store wet art work. this in turn affects the free flow of activities and some eliments of choice

 

This discussion has stemmed from a previous discussion in another topic regarding NEG and a research project that I am doing, the big question being has NEG affected the provision of childcare, this discussion was regards the play during the sessions was there any emphasis from inspectors towards more structured play during sessions

 

I have compiled a questionnaire to help my research and if any one would like to help by filling it in just click on the link

 

Questionnaire

 

Thank you

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  • 1 month later...

Hi All

 

thanks for the replies to the questionaire I am just in the process of sifting through the replies

 

there have been some interesting points made I am finding that groups who have registered for NEG have seen an increase in structured play verses free play I dont know at this stage whether that is a coincidence?

 

its not too late to fill in a questionaire, I can never have too many replies... and aditional comments

 

thanks again

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  • 1 month later...

Hi everyone, am a new member and this topic is exactly why I've joined. Have a new Head - who needless to say has no early years experience - but thinks that every activity should have a clear objective which the children know about. Not allowing any opportunities for child initiated learning. Just wanted to get off my chest how infuriating it is to have to work with some one who has no clue about the importance of these sort of activities. Also wanted to gather evidence in terms of inspections so that I can fight my corner. Any further help will be gratefully received!

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Hi Mia

Welcome to the site and thanks for posting.

This is what quite a few members seem to be up against in the foundation stage in school-senior staff who have no experience in FS. So you are right at home here! You will just have to collect as much evidence as you can, as you say, to try and convince them!!You should find plenty on this site!

Linda

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Hi Mia,

Welcome to the site, and I hope you find lots of support here whilst you fight your corner :o

My first thought is to go through the FS curriculum guidance file and lift out all the statements that refer to child-initiated play, and put them, highlighted, in your plans, stating where they are taken from :D

Secondly, do you have any space in your short term planning sheets for "spontaneous learning opportunities"? If you have, you could complete this box at the end of the week, say, showing that learning does go on even if you haven't planned it down to the last detail!

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Hi Mia & welcome,

I think if all your planned activities have a suitable learning objective then you needn't worry too much. If the children don't follow the activity or do their own thing surely thats ok and otherwise they're being independent! What other PSE goals could you work in to CI play?

Tell them objectives for the adult led activities and indicate what you expect them to do and leran at the others.

Good luck. Don't worry too much. :D

 

Susan

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Thanks everyone for the replies. I like the idea of putting on a box for spontaneous learning opportunities.

Head has now said that she thinks Foundation stage should have a pre OFSTED inspection - so I'm hoping I will be vindicated. Fingers crossed it's some one who knows what they're doing. :)

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