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Stick to play

By: DR. CARMEL BRENNAN

Tuesday 15 August 2017

This week it was really encouraging to hear about a package of sensory play equipment that will be made available free to settings, from the DCYA.  Could this herald another step on our Aistear journey, another step in our national thinking. A shift from talking about literacy and numeracy and giving children an early start in school, to recognising that early childhood is that special time when children need to play and find their way to becoming experts in how to live well in the world around them;  how to be experts in the valued skills of community and how to be important and respected by the significant people in their lives. Right from the beginning children get busy intensely observing what is going on – trying their hand at every activity – and reading the meaning in the bodies, heads and hearts of the people around them.  Children (and parents) have a particularly clever device for doing this – and it’s play.  You might find my 2nd blog ‘The art of play is the art of living life to the full’ on the Arts in Education portal interesting:

www.artsineducation.ie/en/2017/07/27/guest-blogger-carmel-brennan-head-of-practice-early-childhood-ireland-blog-2

 

The aim of the new sensory toy scheme is to support play and the inclusion of children with special needs. For me, the reference to toys immediately gets me thinking. First question: What do we mean by toys?  The most popular toy in the world is the common stick, followed by the ball, followed by string – things that are found or made from things that are found.  The stick floats in the water, makes the sounds of a drum stick and can be attached to anything as a carrier. (And there’s so much pleasure in finding them -I know this now from my Grandson, Donal). The stick becomes a utensil or tool, a goal post or a weapon, the frame for a tent or the spine of a doll or a horse. It can be almost anything.  So please be reminded that nothing beats a toy that is sensory, flexible, grows with imagination and creativity and can be used to symbolise multiple shared meanings.

 

And then…What do we mean by play? For all of us this is an opportunity to rethink how we provide for play in a group setting. I think there are three kinds of play that we want to prioritise – physical play, pretend play and fantasy play – not necessarily separate types of play but, depending on which element is foregrounded, they often require different kinds of spaces, equipment and support. They are all play types that stretch our bodies, our shared ways of seeing the world and our imaginations.  They involve skills, roles, real life scenarios and new possible selves and worlds. They all involve story construction – some more obvious than others. Adding narrative makes every activity more sustainable, collaborative and engaging for children – so even the highly sensory experience of tobogganing down a hill is made all the more interesting when we add story and pretend we’re on a mission of some sort.

Watch out for my next Scéalta post (September 5th) where I explore these types of play in more detail.

 

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