In Defense of Parents
One of the biggest perceived barriers schools face when choosing to implement a learning through play approach is a fear of the response from their parent community. Many schools worry that their parents will believe that the school, in adopting play as the medium for which teaching and learning will be delivered through, will ill-prepare their children for the competitive world of employment in the future.
While there are certainly pockets of parents who misunderstand the complexity of the learning that occurs through what appears to be trivial play, there are more and more parents who are now seeking something different for their children. They see that the current system is causing increased anxiety, school-reluctance and low levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy. In other words, their children worry about going to school, don’t want to go to school, and don’t believe that they are capable learners, or that they are successful in their learning.

These are very real concerns for parents, battling with sad, disconnected or reluctant children in their homes day in and day out. While work force preparation and capability is certainly an important goal for all parents, what outweighs all other concerns is their child’s happiness and well-being. For parents who have seen their child move from a learning environment that causes this level of stress, into learning through play, the outcomes far outweigh any future concerns about their children’s preparedness. Research demonstrates that children who learn through play and are self-directed in their learning have increased rates of motivation for school, along with other well-documented benefits such as increased self-efficacy, confidence and resilience. Anecdotally, parents of these kids tell us that their children can barely stop for a kiss goodbye at the school gate. They enjoy seeing their children run towards their classroom already with plans afoot for their morning of learning ahead.

And while there is the continued rhetoric that children must be prepared to be successful in the workforce, the actual conversations that parents want to have is whether or not their children are making progress in all areas of their development. More and more parents recognise now that while reading, writing and maths are important tools for success, many more want to know that their children are liked by others, can play cooperatively, can manage themselves independently and responsibly and can overcome problems and challenges. They now see that in the 21st century, these skills of flexibility and adaptability supercede any basic skills of literacy and numeracy. In other words, children who grow to be kind adults, flexible problem-solvers, independent, resilient and responsible are more likely to be successful in the workforce than those who are not.

So while parent communities should and are being consulted in the move towards a learning through play approach, schools should be reassured that there are more and more families now that simply want to see their children happy and secure at school. To garner this support does require consistent and ongoing education and information being provided to parents. Schools who have experienced concern from their parent communities are often the ones who have implemented changes without adequate notice and preparation for their families. As such, parents have expressed their concern and objection to the ‘new’ ways of learning occurring in their children’s classrooms. At the opposite end of the spectrum, schools who have adopted a measured, educative response to their communities have only been met with support and positive feedback from their parents. When parents feel they understand and are aware of the benefits, the pedagogy itself is accepted as a valid way of improving their child’s whole-development.
Too often, the education community in its enthusiasm can alienate itself from its ‘clients’ by adopting a ‘we know best’ approach. When schools respectfully take the time to ensure their communities are well-informed about the major changes occurring in the teaching practices in their classrooms, parents are far more likely to be supportive of the approach. Furthermore, many become a valuable resource in the implementation themselves – providing loose parts, advocating the work of the teachers to other parents, as well as sharing learning stories and learning vocabulary with their children.
While there is a long way to go in embedding a positive understanding of the power play has in the primary school classroom, there is a momentum growing within parent communities. This should be celebrated by schools and seen as a positive shift towards supporting this teaching and learning approach. The perceived barrier of ‘parents’ in a school’s implementation of play should not be the large hurdle it may appear. In defense of parents – schools need to start the conversations……they may be pleasantly surprised with the outcomes.

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