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Food for thought: The role of play in TEVYL (Teaching English to Very Young Learners)

Who doesn't like a table full of enticing food that you can choose from as you wish?

Who doesn’t like a table full of enticing food that you can choose from as you wish?

The school year started this week here in Prague and it was a big week for my family as my twins started preschool. It’s big for them and big for me as it means I’m changing my workload and routine after more than 3 yrs on (semi) maternity leave.

This past weekend the kids and I attended a princess and superheroes party. The kids loved it as they got to dress up and I loved it as the birthday girl is Korean and her mummy made an enormous plate of yummy gimbap. Mmmmm.

It didn’t take long for the conversation in the mummy circle at the Princess and Superheroes party to turn to preschool. One of the mums commented to me that she didn’t want her child in state preschool as it was “basically babysitting”. When I asked her what she meant she elaborated, “Well they can’t possibly do stuff with them when there are so many kids for only one teacher”. I assume by “do stuff” she meant some kind of structured activity. Whilst she does have a point that our state preschools are understaffed, in defense of the hard working teachers, I replied that firstly, I have taught in Czech state preschools and assure her that with patience and practice it is indeed possible to “do stuff” with up to 28 preschoolers, and that secondly, free play is really important and that whilst it might look like babysitting, the environment is such that the kids are learning valuable skills. She gave me a ‘let’s agree to disagree’ kind of look so I left it there and wished her kids well. Besides, there was more yummy gimbap to be eaten and who doesn’t love a table full of food to choose from? That’s something we can surely all agree on 😉

As part of my ‘new school year resolutions’, I have decided to read a teaching/EFL/YL related article every day. When I saw the below article posted in a ‘Bumps, Babies and Toddlers’ facebook group I belong to, I decided to make it my article of the day as it’s relevant to both my professional and personal life right now. Whilst I don’t plan to write about every article I read. I do want to share this one. Or at least this line of thought…

Click here to read: The decline of play in preschoolers and the rise in sensory issues

Whilst I’m not fully convinced it’s so cut and dry, I do believe we need to be more mindful (and by we I mean both parents and educators) of the importance of play in preschool and reading this article brought me back to thoughts that have been running through my mind for the past 3 years.

While doing my MA, particularly my dissertation which focuses on VYL,  I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of play (in general), but more specifically, how to really foster it and incorporate it into TEFL (or as I use in the heading, TEVYL). In the above article the author talks about parents and their desperation to fill their kids to the brim with ‘academic’ activities as early as possible and I feel this is especially relevant when it comes to teaching English to VYL. How many of our learners parents are paying for English class because they want their kids to have a ‘head start’? How many of our schools advertise our classes that way? How can we find a happy balance between embracing play, and more importantly free play, whilst still keeping our fee paying parents happy?

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of seeing the wonderful Sandie Mourao speak at the International House Young Learners Conference (which was this year held in Torres Vedras). One of the highlights for many of us at the conference was hearing Sandie speak about ELAs (English Learning Areas) in pre-primary classrooms. Such a simple, brilliant and yet obvious idea. Why weren’t more of us doing it already? We left Sandie’s session and the conference feeling both inspired and incredibly envious of those that already had the resources to implement such a project. Our minds were buzzing with ways to incorporate this idea into our own contexts. Below is a link to the project report which is well worth reading and one possible way to include more play in TEVYL.

Click here to read: English Learning Areas in the pre-primary classroom: An investigation of their effectiveness

What do you think? Food for thought?

And since you took the time to read until the end, as an added bonus on the topic of play, how cool are these free printables?

Click here to see 32 FREE pretend Play Printables

Princess Turkey and Spiderman

Until next time….

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About klokanomil

YL Advisor & IH CYLT Coordinator for IHWO. Teacher, teacher trainer, training mentor, writer, presenter, student, mum of crazy twin toddlers (affectionately known as 'the sausages') and coffee addict.

2 responses »

  1. I completely agree with the suggestion that there should be more free play for younger learners and if the resources are available to schools it would be wonderful to see more of it in the TEFL (TEVYL) classes.

    However, I think you also have to be very careful because too often free play is thought of as a time when the teacher can pull out any boxes of toys and then sit back and get on with other things (while obviously keeping one eye on the class for safety). Kids love playing with lego and building blocks etc… and can play for hours often times on their own and in silence…but is this really helping their ability to speak in English?

    In my (humble) opinion, if free play is going to benefit the children’s learning (especially in short TEVYL lessons), then the play materials have to be carefully thought through and choosen with a purpose, and play should be scaffolded using modelling and questioning that encourages inquiry so that the children are learning from their play. If you can do this successfully, then you may also find that the more able children will follow your lead and scaffold/question their peers in a similar manner.

    So I think I would have to say ‘No to free play, but yes to scaffolded free play with a purpose’

    Just my 2 cents (or crowns) worth.

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    Reply
    • Thanks for taking the time to reply, Meg. You add some valid points. Sandie is the one I said reminds me of you. If you’re ever at a conference together you should definitely go say hi. I think the two of you would get along really well 😀
      And take a moment to read about Sandie’s research. You’ll enjoy reading it, and find it’s far from giving the kids a box of lego 😀

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      Reply

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