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Monday, October 4, 1999 Published at 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK


How learning through play works

Playing with gravel? - Mathematical development

What has picking up a pinch of fish food to do with early literacy?

It is one of the examples given by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) of the way in which play - or indeed, general experience of the world around them - can help very young children learn things which will be important when they get onto more formal schooling.

Darren, aged three, needs encouragement in developing skills to hold a pencil. His teacher comes up with two ideas.

Darren is interested in the fish tank in the room, so she gets him to help her feed the fish.

She then takes him to the workshop area, where he spreads glue onto paper, then sprinkles glitter onto it.

How many beakers?

In the examples on mathematical development, Winston and Steffi - aged four and three - are setting the table for dinner.

[ image: Playing with teddy - and using imagination]
Playing with teddy - and using imagination
"How many children are here today?" he asks.

"Thirteen," she says.

He counts the plates then takes away two beakers, leaving 15 plates and 13 beakers. Steffi points out that he has left out two beakers.

"No," he says, "there are only 13 beakers for the children and none for the grown-ups because they have coffee."

An adult asks what would happen if she wanted some water as well. Winston gives her a beaker.

Focused play

"That's 14 now," he says.

Or, during a session involving the whole class, the teacher counts four 'bugs' - pebbles - into a box with a lid, then makes one 'crawl' out.

She asks the children to hold up their fingers to show how many are left. Margaret holds up three fingers.

"How do you know?"

Magaret holds up four fingers and puts one down.

"That's three left," she says.

'It is fun'

The QCA's point is that children always have learned through play. It is using that to advantage by getting those who work with youngsters to focus the activity towards specific goals that will stand them in good stead in later years.

Its new early learning goals were launched at the Dorothy Gardner Nursery Centre in west London.

Its head, Patricia Lacey, said: "Children will not realise they are learning because it is fun.

"For instance we will help children become familiar with letters - not by sitting around and reciting the alphabet - but by finding out the first letter of their name and by pointing out letters in the environment."

The Centre caters for 60 children a day and teaches English and National Vocational Qualifications in childcare to their parents.


Sharon Moore, 28, of Cricklewood, north west London, said she was pleased at what she and her three-year-old daughter Ellie Kym had been able to achieve at the centre where she works as a volunteer.

"Ellie Kym can count past 20 and she can say the alphabet, although she often leaves letters out," she said.

"She can draw people, including their bodies. She realises she is learning and is very pleased with herself. I'm hoping she'll be able to write when she's six."

The Education and Employment Minister Margaret Hodge announced £13m of Standards Fund money for 1,800 extra classroom assistants for reception classes in 2000-01. This follows her pledge to reduce adult:child ratios to a maximum of 1:15 in reception classes in the 40 most deprived local authorities.

The QCA has also published the first framework of qualifications in early years education, childcare and playwork, with a more complete version to come in spring 2000.

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