Learning Through Play in Preschools – An Exercise in Serendipity?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines serendipity as "the fact of finding interesting or valuable things by chance."
So, when we promote the fact that youngsters should learn by play, does this really just happen by chance? Are we saying that we should let them out into the sandpit early in the morning and collect them again at the end of the day, hoping that they will learn and develop in the process?
Well, to a certain extent there is truth in this statement. They will learn and develop. They will practice their sensory and tactile skills, their communication interaction with their peers, and will learn how to manage risk through the process of taking tumbles and spills.
But what we want is something linked to tangible outcomes. Yes, it is important to play. And it is often important that such play is completely free and unstructured. But play and development is not an automatic process. It should always be focused on the developmental goals of the child in mind.
It depends on each unique child having opportunities to interact in positive relationships and enabling environments. The six ELDAs (Early Learning and Development Areas) underpin these developmental goals.
Early Learning and Development Areas
The ELDAs organise children’s development and learning opportunities to help adults to arrange activities with babies, toddlers, and young children. They are:
- Identify and belonging.
- Exploring mathematics.
- Knowledge and understanding of the world.
The ELDAs are key to understand how children’s learning and development should be organised. Each of the ELDAs is linked to specific desired results (the developmental goals mentioned above), and to related subjects.
Schools that follow the ELDA approach strictly do it based on a specific curriculum – like Play, Learn, Win provides. These curricula are developed for children age groups 0 – 18 months (broken down again into 0 – 6 months, 6 – 12 months, and 12 – 18 months), 18 – 24 months, 24 – 36 months, and 36 to 48 months. We will soon also have a Grade R curriculum in place.
So, are we contradicting ourselves when we say that learning and development should be an exercise in serendipity, yet we promote a formal curriculum?
Not at all!
These two approaches can live together very fruitfully, and in fact, should do so. Let us explain…
The developmental goals under each ELDA are broken down into quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily sub-objectives, each with specific play activities linked to it. At the daily level, it even indicates what toys may be used for those specific activities! Note we say "may", not "must."
In this way, children still play. And a great deal of it is free play. But they play "structured" in the sense that it is aimed at some sort of outcome. And these outcomes are best practice related, as are the ELDAs.
We may refer to this as "structured serendipity!"
Children’s development needs to happen in a step-like fashion, linked to specific outcomes, or themes. There is a great deal of leeway possible within these themes, and properly structured curricula should allow for such leeway.
But in the final analysis, it’s all about serendipity. About seeing how that seed that you plant, the subtle inputs that you give are acted out playfully and joyously, till one day – Boom! A valuable little human being has been created, seemingly by chance…
 Cambridge Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/serendipity.