Transcript of Supporting a play based approach to transition

Supporting a play based approach to transition – Kindergarten 2021 cohort video (27:08)

Narrator – Hello and thank you for accessing this professional Learning, supporting a play based approach to transition for the kindy cohort of 2021. I pay my respects to the custodians of the many lands of people accessing this recording. This recording is taking place in Darug and Gundundurra Country in the beautiful Blue Mountains. The people of this country have a continuous and deep connection to their country and it is of great cultural significance to Aboriginal people both locally and in the region.

As teacher identified professional learning, you will be able to decide which standard descriptors can be applied here. I would suggest that 6.2.2 is appropriate as this presentation aims to update your knowledge targeted to a school priority, that is transition.

The session outcomes for today are that learners will explore the importance of access to early childhood education for children's learning. And consider concepts of transition and appropriate ways to support young children's learning through play.

Setting the scene. Many of us have experienced challenges throughout 2020. The world pandemic has affected us all in different ways. If we had opportunity to share with each other, I'm certain that we would all be able to come up with a long list of difficulties. For many of us, that impact has been manageable, for others it is resulted in life changing hardships that may take years or even decades to overcome. I'm not able to imagine all of the complexities in children's lives that have been affected, but I am confident in saying that this has been a year like no other. For this reason, education must rise to the challenge of supporting children, families and communities to ensure that children experience success in their first year of school and beyond. This presentation hopes to provide some positive ways that we can support young children entering kindy in 2021, considering that 2020 was one of disruption and challenge. However, I hope that it may also have some longevity, as many children experience disruptions to their lives for a variety of reasons. As they come into our education system, my wish is that schools everywhere will know these children, build their knowledge of each child, and be ready for them when they walk through the gate on day one.

Let's start with the very important aspect of early childhood in Australia, universal access. Universal access ensures a quality preschool program is available for all children in the year before full time school. It is a result of a national partnership between the Australian governments. Literature on the topic refers to the quality of that education, that every child can participate in a quality preschool program for 600 hours in the year before school. These quality programs are delivered in accordance with the National Quality Framework for early childhood education and care and the Early Years Learning Framework. It is provided in a form that meets the needs of children, parents and communities and at a cost that does not present a barrier to participation. For this reason, the Australian Government provides enormous amounts of money in the form of rebates to support children's participation in a preschool program. The importance of early childhood education is shown in the research, that there are positive impacts for children who participate in a quality preschool program. Quality preschool prepares children for school and gives them the best possible start in life. Children who attend preschool or less likely to be developmentally vulnerable across all five developmental domains upon arrival at school, and participation in preschool also delivers improvements in educational outcomes once children arrive at school, as demonstrated by Naplan results.

The research literature is very clear that age appropriate pedagogies are necessary in the early years of schooling to engage young learners, to achieve effective learning outcomes and set children up for long-term success in the 21st century, and play provides a safe haven for exploring emotions and relieving anxieties. A playful approach tends to reduce stress in the classroom and play cultivates joy, pride, self confidence, social bonding and improves executive function and academic achievement.

Age appropriate based pedagogies provide a continuity of learning for children. Whether coming from home or early childhood learning environments, a continuity of what they've already learned is an important aspect. It supports children's holistic development, which is appropriate for young learners, and emphasises the value of playing structures and encouraging children's broader skill development. Age appropriate pedagogies inform the nature of more structured learning that maintains children's agency, activity, and opportunities for language and cognitive engagement. To sustain use of such pedagogies in the early years of school provides continuity in the learning opportunities afforded young children as they transition from kindergarten to school.

Play based pedagogy is likely to be the most effective tool for teachers for transition in 2021. Play has the power to resolve, mitigate, or lessen the impacts that children have experienced throughout 2020. This presentation suggests that in planning for transition, it's important to extend the usual orientation activities that happen at the end of 2020, to a more sustained approach that allows children time to adjust to their new environment through a continuity of learning. Considering the challenges that many children have faced, play is a means to promote positive dispositions towards more academic learning. For these reasons, play based learning can be incorporated into the early months of early stage one and beyond.

This presentation is a short snapshot of what needs to be considered for the kindy cohort of 2021. I'd like to promote other professional learning that is available on this topic via the department's website. You may like to pause the presentation here to access these and extend your learning as they focus more deeply on transition to school and play based pedagogy. I'd also like to alert you to an excellent podcast which is a conversation between Christine Woodrow, Associate Professor at Western Sydney University and Education Review. Chris discusses some of the impacts on preschoolers who will be starting school in 2021, and outlines possible solutions.

Let's discuss some of those impacts to children's learning that has been characterised through the year of 2020. For various reasons, children may experience disruptions in their early years which can present risks to their early learning and development, particularly when cascading effects continue overtime. Whatever the cause of disruptions, these can have long lasting effects which may continue into a person's lifetime. Early childhood is an important time for the developing brain, so major disruptions to home and family life can have a significant impact on learning. In focusing on the kindy cohort of 2021, we understand that the disruptions of COVID-19 have possibly been ongoing, relentless, unpredictable, and frightening. I think the term cascading describes this well. If you think of a small trickle of water that after rain builds, gathers momentum, takes on water from joining streams, and eventually becomes a powerful surge. So during 2021 this cascade has been building and flowing, and let's add the additional challenge of transitioning into school. This is a major point in a child’s life, possibly the most significant transition they've ever undergone. It is important to avoid those cascading effects from spilling over and escalating. There's been community impacts such as cancelled community events, health and wellbeing services being disrupted. There's been a new normal for communities when people are out and about, less interactions and engagement in community life. Livelihoods have been affected, schools have been closed, early childhood services have been closed. This has resulted in family impacts, impacts around employment, less physical human contact, limits to socialising in person, working from home, learning from home, financial hardships and health impacts, fear and anxiety, reduced time with outside family members, reduced access to services, housing, less access to child care and education, and variance in the capacity of families to cope with the challenges, and all of this of course leads to individual impact on children, the mental health and well being of children, the anxiety and fear they may be experiencing. The fact that there are more rules in their world at the moment, less touch and limited socialising outside of the home. More frequent use of devices, needing to learn from home, less time in preschool and preschool activities being interrupted.

And there are other considerations as well. What we know of brain development, that early childhood is the period during which the brain develops most rapidly and flexibly. This time presents critical opportunities to create a foundation for lifelong health and learning. And stress, learning to deal with stress is an important part of healthy development. But extreme ongoing stress can have serious damaging effects across the lifespan. And also equity groups are likely to experience a greater negative impact. Children experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage have a high tendency for low educational outcomes. So in getting to know the children coming into kindy, we may find that they have been impacted by disruptions to their early learning and development through the missed opportunities that lay a foundation for lifelong health and wellbeing, such as not meeting universal access or reduced quality and play experiences or less opportunities for social play and an over emphasis on rules such as regarding touching things or keeping their distance. Also in experiencing high levels of stress as families and communities have been impacted, for some children this may be extreme and being in an equity group may already be a risk factor for these children's education.

When we reflect on how these disruptions impact children's early development, it's important to consider strategies that are most likely to mitigate the risks to children's learning. It is necessary to consider what might ease the transition into school for these children, and research informs us of ways to overcome learning impacts such a stressful situations or reduced opportunities for early learning. Firstly, reduce the source of stress. This can be managed by providing relief from stress factors such as opportunities to talk or play within scenarios. Also, providing places to find relief. Also, providing protective factors. Responsive relationships are paramount to protective factors. Knowing when and how to offer support, providing the attachment that young children need to a significant adult and sustaining relationships in positive ways protect children from emotional harm. Positive early experiences can not only reduce stress but also protects children from the impacts of stresses in their lives. Also strengthening social and emotional development and supporting self regulation. The social skills that develop in young children will remain with them throughout their lifetime. It's important in education that children have access to learning that promotes their social development and supports self-regulation. That's the ability to manage thoughts and emotions, attention and actions in response to stress. When thinking about overcoming impacts on children's learning, does a particular education approach come to mind? I hope that the approach that has come to mind is play. In the next slides we will unpack some of these strategies in relation to play based pedagogies.

So let's think about how play has the potential to reduce the source of stress. Play is learner focused. A learner focused approach recognises that all children learn in different ways and that learning is a highly individual process. It acknowledges differences in children's physical, intellectual, cultural, social and personal experiences and perspectives. Activities that are learning focused are less likely to add harmful stress or anxiety to children's learning as children are encouraged to make decisions about the activity through play. Play is also responsive because it is flexible playful learning meets the child at their point of need. Play allows for a balance between structure and spontaneity and can incorporate open ended and specific tasks, and allows the balance between child led and educator led learning. In this way, teachers are able to make pedagogical decisions that promote beneficial tension and mitigate harmful stress. While learning to deal with stress is an important part of healthy development. Ongoing and unrelenting exposure to stress can be harmful. Play is also agentic. Through play, children have a voice in their learning, their ideas and interests, initiate support and extend learning and their ideas matter. Play builds on children's real world understandings and experiences. As children are able to make decisions in play that impact on their life, harmful stresses are less likely to emerge as children use play to build on their experience and understandings they can find healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety.

When we think about how play provides protective factors through responsive relationships, and positive early experiences, we see that it is collaborative. Play is highly social and co-constructed. Children and educators work together and collaboratively identify ways of learning and understanding through sustained, shared thinking and action. The collaborative aspects of play support responsive relationships, where there is a two way exchange and learning as a shared process. Sometimes the child is even the expert in the learning, which empowers and builds healthy relationships. When children play with other children, they create social groups and challenge each others thinking. These aspects of play build friendships and are enjoyable for children, building positive experiences in the learning environment. Again, we see players being responsive. It provides for flexibility to ensure that learning is always child, context, content and discipline appropriate. And again, educators will balance opportunities for structure and spontaneity, for open ended and specific tasks, and for child led an educator led learning. Being attuned to how children might learn a new concept, build on their prior knowledge or develop a new skill promotes a strong sense of wellbeing and provides a strong base for further exploration. Responsive relationships are reciprocal and help children learn how to relate to others. Responsiveness also ensures children's engagement and motivation in learning, making it a positive experience and developing positive dispositions for learning. This in turn supports further academic learning. Also, play lends itself to scaffolding learning. Modelling, encouraging, questioning, adding challenges and giving feedback is a part of a teachers everyday life. Extending children's existing capabilities. And scaffolding by both educators and other children provides active structures to support new learning progressively withdrawn as learners gain increasing mastery.Play lends itself to building on children's learning in positive ways. The relationship between the child and teacher is responsive and reciprocal. And through play, explicit learning can occur. Play acknowledges the relationships between the learning purpose, processes, skills and understandings. It is rich and dialogic. Meaningful dialogue supports learning, through thinking, engagement and imagination. Play provides teachers with opportunities to provide explicit learning that is authentic and meaningful to the child, promoting both responsive relationships and positive early experiences in learning.

On this slide we can see how the characteristics of play strengthen social and emotional development and support self regulation. So play is active. It involves physical and embodied engagement across all areas of learning. It actively activates children's full potential. It enhances focus, concentration, motivation, self regulation through moving, doing and interacting with learning environments. Being active in learning enhances well being to strengthen children’s social and emotional development. And play provides a supportive environment where children can actively test out ideas and build new understandings in an active way. Also, it's creative. It invites children to consider what if? It encourages investigation, inquiry, and artistry. It explores new possibilities and ways of thinking. Being creative gives children scope to experiment with ways to express ideas and feelings. Expressing feelings is closely linked to social development and to the ability to see things from another point of view. Play also promotes narrative. In play, learners can acknowledge the important role that personal, written, oral and digital stories play in all of our lives. The production and comprehension of narratives are supported through the active processes of play. As humans, we lead storied lives, and through play children can enjoy positive experiences with narrative. Play lends itself to story and story promotes many aspects of play. Such positive early experiences are protective factor against negative impacts. Narrative is also a way to allow children to express their emotions and be supported to show emotion in healthy ways. This is closely linked to being able to self manage and have self-regulation.

In this next section, we're going to explore how we can support a successful transition. What makes for a successful transition? In reading through these quotes, what words or phrases are notable in answer to this? Having a successful transition to school has the potential to positively impact a young child's early learning and development, as well as their future academic success. And nothing magical or mysterious happens to children's brains or learning styles in the holiday period between finishing early years education and starting school. There are no grounds, therefore for abruptly changing the teaching style and content. Rather, there is a strong rationale for seeking greater alignment between early years services and school curricula with a more gradual introduction to structured learning. Some of the words that jumped out to me were successful, potential, positive, continuing teaching style, content alignment, gradual introduction to structured learning. Reflect on a successful transition in your life. What made it so successful? How did you prepare? Were you ok on the first day? How is the new normal a week later? What about months later or even years? This year I began a new job. I think I prepared myself pretty well. I spoke to colleagues. I discussed options with significant people in my life and even visited the new office. Now I'm more than nine months and I'm still transitioning as I hone my skills, knowledge, relationships and expectations. My transition was more than that initial orientation and preparation, and I suggest the same is probably true for the significant transitions that you've been through, or are yet to experience in your life.

Considering these challenges, I’d like to think about the notion of schools being ready for children. The rapid emergence of the unprecedented pandemic, calls on the well evidenced expertise, responsiveness, and creativity of early years teachers in scaffolding learning experiences that integrate the individual context that young children are inhabiting during social isolation and COVID-19 requirements.

As learning opportunities for children have been compromised, it's more important than ever to provide successful transitions that support children's belonging and identity, emotions and adjustment, relationships and continuity. Play supports belonging and identity. Belonging and connection are protective factors for mental health and well being and play can facilitate these. Some examples would be providing home corner settings that are reflective of cultures or toys and figures that represent diversity, creative arts that support children's identity and belonging or playful opportunities to explore their new identity as a school student. Around emotions and adjustment, it's vital that transition plans are made the dedicate resources to support social and emotional well being. Play offers a safe haven for children experiencing anxiety and stress, and it's vital for children to develop social skills and self regulation, particularly when supported by caring empathetic adults. And when it comes to relationships and continuity, we know that relationships are a vital support during times of transition, some relationships may have strengthened during the pandemic, but others may be in need of repair. And children's relationships with educators and peers and known to influence adjustment, and relationships between families and educators act as an important support for children as well. Building upon what children have been learning at home in preschool, including experiences that they have enjoyed, projects that they have been working on, interests and strengths that have emerged over time will provide some continuity, and play is an excellent way to strengthen relationships as adults support the play. It's no judgement, it's open ended, it's engaging, it's motivating. It's what children know and understand from previous learning settings. So although the process of transition overtime is being planned for in some respects, it may take children, families and educators an extended period of time before their transition has been successful.

You may like to pause here and reflect on the below strategies and consider one way that you could use each strategy to support children's transition to school in 2021, engaging with age appropriate pedagogy and play. How might you connect with children's previous learning through collaboration with families and early childhood services? Or how could you plan for a balance of play and instructional learning in those first few months of kindy? How much you connect play to curriculum outcomes, or utilise play spaces all around the school, including the outdoors. And what might you do to learn more about age-appropriate pedagogies and play for school age children?

This slide shows the references that were the basis for this presentation. I encourage you to look them up for further reading and reflection or for discussion with colleagues. Also, don't forget the professional learning that is available on the department's website.

And this brings us to the end of the presentation. You can note here other resources that are available to you, also the contact email for Early Learning. The Early Learning team are available to support you in your transition planning and implementation, so please contact us if we can be of any further assistance in your transition journey. Thank you for joining me in this presentation and I wish you and next year's children a happy and successful transition to school with lots of opportunities for play. Thank you.

End of transcript

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