He will climb trees and become a sea-captain, out to discover fabulous islands; he can play with his friends on the beach or in the school-yard… But if the rain doesn’t stop, he can have great fun indoors, with building blocks, cars, dolls or games. The scope of competences that a child will develop through play is nearly infinite: the sky’s the limit!
- Unfortunately, many parents and teachers consider play as something that can be indulged in only after ‘more serious activities’, Marie-France Mailhos
Cooperative or competitive, creative or deductive, logical or nonsensical, individual or collective, the variety of situations that a child will experience in play greatly contributes to the harmonious development of his personality, as many studies in cognitive and social sciences and psychology can demonstrate. The child will develop his curiosity, his sense of observation, his decision-making capacity, his inventiveness and his social skills. He will learn the joy of trying, of persevering, of competing, of winning. He will learn to enjoy collaborative achievement. He will experience the frustration of not being first. He will encounter cheating and hopefully learn to overcome temptation. He will learn that he can sometimes lose, that he must accept temporary failure and start again with renewed energy and self-confidence.
However, in too many cases, parents and teachers consider play as something that can be indulged in only after ‘more serious activities’ have been completed: ‘Do your lessons first, then you can go and play’. Obviously, this remark does not apply to nursery schools and kindergartens, where the value of play is duly recognised: the majority of school-time for these young children is devoted to play and the layout of various playing areas in the classroom reflects this priority.
When children reach primary school age throughout Europe, play often gets relegated to the minimal spaces offered by the few breaks in the middle of the morning and afternoon and around lunch. Teachers tend to consider that their mission is to complete the institutional syllabus required by their respective systems of education. Play is not a prominent component of the institutional curriculum during the years of compulsory education (6 to 16 in most EU Member States) and teachers who are innovative and inventive in that direction tend to be looked down upon as not very academic. But, given the opportunity, they can easily justify their pedagogical approach and show evidence of their pupils’ achievements.
Together with a group of twenty other European organisations, from primary schools to universities and parents’ associations, the European Association of Education-France (AEDE-France) is currently developing a Portfolio of the European Citizen and accompanying pedagogical tools, including all sorts of games, to help children explore Europe and to foster a common feeling of belonging to a shared Europe. I can only mention a couple of examples here: with the help of their teachers, a group of eight nursery schools across the EU is designing a game of snakes and ladders together with a mascot teddy bear; eTwinning, which promotes school collaboration across Europe, allows school children in different countries to exchange the rules of school-yard games and create new ones together; several organisations have produced quizzes and puzzles to develop better knowledge of European geography, history, languages and cultures. Play is a good way for children to learn about Europe and to develop a feeling of belonging.
As a conclusion, I would like to highlight the value of incorporating play into education systems across Europe, both for students and teachers. In the case of our project on Europe, this works at several different levels: children gain access to information about Europe and the world in a stimulating manner; students have sustained motivation for exploring new areas of knowledge; and challenging play situations develop both self-confidence and entrepreneurship. These are perhaps the ingredients most needed today to propel the old continent into the twenty-first century!
- Credit: Marie-France Mailhos Rain, rain, go away, come again another day, Little Johnny wants to play!
Marie-France Mailhos was an English teacher, a senior lecturer at the University Institute of Teacher Education of Brittany and Deputy Director in charge of European and International Training Courses at the University Institute of Teacher Education of Brittany prior to her retirement in 2007. Since 2009, she is the President of the European Association of Education-France (AEDE-France). She has four children and nine grandchildren with whom she loves to play! AEDE-France was founded in Paris in 1957. Its aim is to promote European literacy and citizenship education together with high quality education for all in the EU. It is part of the wider AEDE European network and also a member of the European Movement and the International Confederation of Principals.