You may have picked up in the press that applications close this week for “what could be the most coveted job in education: the Lego professor of play, development and learning at the University of Cambridge” (The Guardian 17.1.17). It seems to be heralded as an innovative and ‘breakthrough’ move, which comes as a surprise to me as an Early Years teacher and educationalist.
The post is being sponsored by The Lego Foundation, which believes play has a critical role for children, particularly in high-quality learning. “Play should be part of education,” says Stjerne Thomsen. “What we want is to get the UK government to encourage more playful learning in schools, rather than testing.” Our recently updated Teaching and Learning Policy has a section on the importance of play in children’s learning. Indeed our whole approach is ‘playful’. For very young children there is no distinction between work and play, both can be equally interesting, challenging, engaging, frustrating, joyful, sociable, solitary, absorbing, meaningful, fun, or upsetting. There is a distinguished list of early years educators and psychologists that have written at length about the value of play. These include Froebel (1782-1852), the MacMillans (1919), Isaacs (1930), Piaget (1945), Schiller (1954), Bruner (1960), Erickson (1977), Lee (1977), Sylvia (1977), Donaldson (1978), Yardley (1984), Curtis (1986) and more. Hence my surprise that this is being lauded as the next best thing for education. At LNS we know that children learn through play and we provide as many opportunities as possible for children to explore, experiment and create new meaning through play. It is what we believe and what we do. I am concerned however that if government at last is persuaded by commerce that play is educational it will be wrapped and packaged in such a way that it will become as dry and wrung out as other aspects of learning. Linda