The Importance of Play

Today is a celebration of all things ‘play’ so I thought I would blog about its importance in our PRU.
My teaching background has its roots in early learning so right from day one I have learned about the importance of play in a creative curriculum. Others more qualified than I can take you through the research side; I wish to focus on its practical and emotional effects.
Some people are surprised to learn that we get very young children with behavioural problems coming to us either on dual placement or following permanent exclusion. Anecdotally we seem to be getting more and more referrals for early intervention with children as young as 4 yrs old and two referrals to one of our panels were for nursery children to come straight in at FS! I have recently had several other conversations with schools who are worried about their intakes next term. Obviously there is something very wrong with a system which sees a PRU as a suitable place for a young child new to school! Once I had a child who was accessing one hour a day in school and school wanted to send him on a forty minute taxi ride to us each way on top of a six hour day!! It’s nonsense and fortunately we found another, better way!
So what is happening out there? Well one issue is the same as ever, children with difficult home lives who struggle to accept the rules and boundaries of school. Secondly, some schools are better at providing for diverse needs than others and thirdly- and this is becoming increasingly common- children are presenting with complex needs. They come with autism and adhd and sen , sometimes all rolled up together and poor behaviour is the icing on the cake. I don’t want to divert to the shortcomings of funding and provision here but the reality is they come and we are here to help them.
Our FS/KS1 classroom is very nurturing  and play is key to the success of the provision. Children learn to build relationships through play; co-operation and teamwork are fostered as they are up and down classrooms across the land, but obviously this becomes even more significant in our setting! Children come in as individuals who struggle to socialise and who often display extreme behaviours. Free and structured play gives them a chance to safely explore their emotions and act out their issues and difficulties with supportive adult supervision. Only then can they begin to build up positive relationships with each other, relaxed, reassured and secure.
And it’s not just the young ones who need play. Many of our older children come with a variety of attachment and other issues and have missed out on important developmental milestones. I remember a few years ago I had a very difficult Y6 boy who found it hard to engage in learning and enjoyed being disruptive. One particular day he was helping me do some jobs as a way of staying calm and we were doing some washing up. He filled the sink with hot soapy water and spent ages playing with the bubbles; it moved me almost to tears because it was his job to care for mum and younger siblings at home.
All our children benefit from playing games together; at lunch times and in free sessions they can choose to play chess or cards or outdoor games and activities and you can see it working! For some of them it is the first time they are interacting positively and their self confidence grows! Their learning and attitudes improve as a direct consequence. Relationships with family often get better and volatile behaviours start to calm! It’s not always perfect but it is a start and leads me to this revised saying (sic)..’the family that plays together stays together’ …which seems a nice thought to end this blog on!

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